How much is wind power really costing Ontario?

For the cost to provide a small portion of Ontario’s power, wind is no bargain

Not a chance ...
Not a chance …

Most electricity ratepayers in Ontario are aware that contracts awarded to wind power developers following the Green Energy Act gave them 13.5 cents per kilowatt (kWh) for power generation, no matter when that power was delivered. Last year, the Ontario Auditor General’s report noted that renewable contracts (wind and solar) were handed out at above market prices; as a result, Ontario ratepayers overpaid by billions.

The Auditor General’s findings were vigorously disputed by the wind power lobbyist the Canadian Wind Energy Association or CanWEA, and the Energy Minister of the day, Bob Chiarelli.

Here are some cogent facts about wind power. The U.K. president for German energy giant E.ON stated wind power requires 90% backup from gas or coal plants due to its unreliable and intermittent nature.  The average efficiency of onshore wind power generation, accepted by Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and other grid operators, is 30% of their rated capacity; the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) supports that claim.  OSPE also note the actual value of a kWh of wind is 3 cents a kWh (fuel costs) as all it does is displace gas generators when it is generating during high demand periods.  On occasion, wind turbines will generate power at levels over 90% and other times at 0% of capacity.  When wind power is generated during low demand hours, the IESO is forced to spill hydro, steam off nuclear or curtail power from the wind turbines, in order to manage the grid.  When wind turbines operate at lower capacity levels during peak demand times, other suppliers such as gas plants are called on for what is needed to meet demand.

Bearing all that in mind, it is worth looking at wind generation’s effect on costs in the first six months of 2016 and ask, are the costs are reflective of the $135/MWh (+ up to 20% COL [cost of living] increases) 20 year contracts IESO, and the Ontario Power Authority awarded?

As of June 30, 2016, Ontario had 3,823 MW grid-connected wind turbines and 515 MW distributor-connected. The Ontario Energy Reports for the 1st two quarters of 2016 indicate that wind turbines contributed 4.6 terawatts (TWh) of power, which represented 5.9% of Ontario’s consumption of 69.3 TWh.

Missing something important

Not mentioned in those reports is the “curtailed” wind. The cost of curtailed wind (estimated at $120 per/MWh) is part of the electricity line on our bills via the Global Adjustment, or GA.  Estimates by energy analyst Scott Luft have curtailed wind in the first six months of 2016 at 1.228 TWh.

So, based on the foregoing, the GA cost of grid-accepted and curtailed IWT generation in the first six months of 2016 was $759.2 million, made up of a cost of $611.8 million for grid-delivered generation (estimated at $133 million per TWh) and $147.4 million for curtailed generation. Those two costs on their own mean the per kWh cost of wind was 16.5 cents/kWh (3.2 cents above the average of 13.3 cents/kWh).  The $759.2 million was 12% of the GA costs ($6.3 billion) for the six months for 5.9% of the power contributed.

But hold on, that’s not all. We know that wind turbines need gas plant backup, so those costs should be included, too. Those costs (due to the peaking abilities of gas plants) currently are approximately $160/MWh (at 20% of capacity utilization) meaning payments to idling plants for the 4.6 TWh backup was about $662 million. That brings the overall cost of the wind power contribution to the GA to about $1.421 billion, for a per kWh rate of 30.9 cents.   If you add in costs of spilled or wasted hydro power to make way for wind (3.4 TWh in the first six months) and steamed off nuclear generation at Bruce Power (unknown and unreported) the cost per/kWh would be higher still.

So when the moneyed corporate wind power lobbyist CanWEA claims that the latest procurement of IWT is priced at 8.59 cents per kWh, they are purposely ignoring the costs of curtailed wind and the costs of gas plant backup.

22% of the costs for 5.9% of the power

 Effectively, for the first six months of 2016 the $1.421 billion in costs to deliver 4.6 TWh of wind-generated power represented 22.5% of the total GA of $6.3 billion but delivered only 5.9% of the power.  Each of the kWh delivered by IWT, at a cost of 30.9 cents/kWh was 2.8 times the average cost set by the OEB and billed to the ratepayer.  As more wind turbines are added to the grid (Ontario signed contracts for more in April 2016),  the costs described here will grow and be billed to Ontario’s consumers.

CanWEA recently claimed “Ontario’s decision to nurture a clean energy economy was a smart investment and additional investments in wind energy will provide an increasingly good news story for the province’s electricity customers.” 

There is plenty of evidence to counter the claim that wind power is “a smart investment.” But it is true that this is a “good news story” — for the wind power developers, that is. They rushed to Ontario to obtain the generous above-market rates handed out at the expense of Ontario’s residents and businesses. And we’re all paying for it.

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Challenging CanWEA’s claim about wind power and electricity bills

October 16, 2016

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), the wind power development lobbyist and trade association, posted a declaration last week defending wind power, saying it has no role in Ontario’s rising electricity bills. CanWEA’s Regional Director for Ontario Brandy Giannetta posted an article on their website claiming she has facts showing that wind power is a minor factor in the raft of electricity bill increases we have seen in Ontario.

Her chief source of information is a study conducted in 2014 by Power Advisory for “environmental action organization” Environmental Defence; this study has been very influential on the Wynne government’s energy policy.

The claim by CanWEA needs to be challenged.  Let’s look at real facts from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).  Scott Luft collects wind data from IESO and posts it monthly on his energy analysis website.  His estimates of “curtailed” generation are indeed estimates; however, they have proven to be conservative over the past couple of years.

Luft posted data on wind power in Ontario in the first nine months of the current year; wind generated 7,035,901 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity and curtailed* another 1,558,555 MWh.  The power restricted or curtailed actually represents slightly more than 18% of total power generation from wind.  

Together (assuming an average price of $123.50/MWh), the cost of the 8,594,456  MWh of generated and curtailed wind cost ratepayers about $1,061,415.000.   What Luft has also done is use IESO data to determine the HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) during the generation and curtailment times and, based on that data, the market valuation of that almost 8.6 terawatt hours (TWh) was just shy of $87 million.  What that clearly indicates is the market value of 8.6 million of generated and curtailed wind contracted as a result of the GEA cost Ontario ratepayers $974 million for unneeded power that was principally exported or curtailed because it was surplus to our needs.

The data from the first nine months of the current year suggest approximately 90% of the costs associated with generating unneeded electricity from industrial wind turbines (curtailed and exported)  were costs adding no value to Ontario’s ratepayers (except for the 1 cent per kilowatt hour they would have received in a truly competitive market environment).

What this means is, the Auditor General’s observation that the government of Ontario needed to do a cost/benefit study for its non-hydro renewable energy program has become patently obvious. The wind power lobby can claim what it wants about wind power’s role in electricity bills, but the figures speak for themselves.

Parker Gallant

*IESO definition: curtailment means the involuntary curtailment of non-dispatchable load as a result of insufficient generation capacity, of a limitation in the capacity of a transmission system or of actions taken by the IESO pursuant to Chapter 5 to maintain the reliability of the IESO-controlled grid or of the electricity system