Mr Thibeault needs to go to energy minister school

Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: listening to the earbuds, not really in the know on energy
Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: listening to the earbuds, not really in the know on energy

Ontario’s Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was in Port Hope February 8, 2017 and delivered a speech to the local Chamber of Commerce.  Based on a few of his quotes appearing in the local paper, Northumberland Today, he needs basic training in the electricity system. Clearly, he doesn’t get it.

The article said, “Except for one question from the floor at the Port Hope and District Chamber of Commerce event, all of the queries from chamber members to Thibeault were solicited and chosen prior to his arrival.” I guess he needed help from bureaucrats in the Ministry to ensure he could answer the questions!

Looking at one of the Minister’s quotes along with a message from his speech, one is blown away by what appears to be either ignorance or fabrications he thinks ratepayers will believe.

“Thibeault supported the refurbishment of nuclear power plants in Ontario, a 30% source of power in this province, he said.”  Nuclear refurbishment was approved prior to Thibeault’s appointment so that’s a meaningless message.  But it also failed to deliver the correct facts!

According to IESO, while the capacity of nuclear was only 30% it produced 61% of total generation in 2016 and 67% (91.7 TWh) of Ontario’s total demand of 137 TWh (terawatts).

The quote that makes absolutely no sense is his remark, “We really have built the system of the future with yesterday’s dollars,” he said.”   Was he suggesting “yesterday’s dollars” were money in the bank already? If so,

Why have electricity rates risen over 100% under this government?

Why does Ontario have the highest electricity rates in Canada?

Why does Ontario have the fastest rising rates in North America? And

Why were almost 567,000 households (12% of households) in arrears on their electricity bills as of December 31, 2015?

We could go on and on about the damage done to the electricity system in the province by the current government meaning, the Thibeault’s claim “yesterday’s dollars” were used to “build the system of the future” is either a bogus boast or an outright lie.

The time has come for the Minister of Energy to admit his and his predecessor’s mistakes, and get some basic training.

Hard to see through the fog of Wynne government energy promises

On October 21, 2013 Premier Wynne wrote a letter “To the people of Ontario” with a few promises.

“We must also unlock public data so that you can help us solve problems and find new ways of doing things. I believe that government data belongs to the people of Ontario and so we will make government data open by default.”

and

“Our Open Government initiative will help create the transparent, accessible government that the people of Ontario deserve. Over the months and years to come, we’ll be bringing forward additional initiatives that will improve transparency, accountability, and connectivity.”

Almost a year later, possibly in an effort to augment her promise of “transparency” she wrote “mandate letters” to her Ministers. To her Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli she said, “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the country. We want to be a government that works for the people of this province — and with them. It is of the utmost importance that we lead responsibly, act with integrity, manage spending wisely and are accountable for every action we take.” [Italics mine]

Premier Wynne’s “mandate letter” to the current energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault, September 23, 2016 said nothing about transparency but does say:  “At this halfway mark of this government’s mandate, I encourage you to build on the momentum that we have successfully achieved over the past two years, to work in tandem with your fellow ministers to advance our economic plan”.

After almost three and a half years since Wynne’s letter to the people, perhaps it’s time to look at the promise to “unlock public data” and how the “Open Government” promise has delivered on  “transparency”!

  • Two months after Wynne’s letter to her Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, in an appearance on TVO he claimed, “since 2008, the province of Ontario – and you can verify it with the IESO — has made a $6 billion profit on the trading of electricity.”
  • Current Energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault when asked in an interview with Global TV for information on how many ratepayers were behind in their hydro bills and how many had been disconnected, he had no idea! Neither did the OEB, or Ministry of Energy staff. Thibeault wouldn’t admit there was a crisis.
  • Less than two months after Thibeault refused to agree there was a crisis, Premier Wynne admitted rising hydro bills were “an urgent issue”. Loss of a critical byelection finally opened her eyes.

The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operators) website dazzles with the amount of data available. Search using the terms “transparency” or “transparent” you get 2,800 hits. Impressive, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words!

IESO fail to provide data on:

  • How much wind is curtailed or
  • How much water is spilled by hydro electric generators or
  • How much nuclear is “steamed off” by Bruce Nuclear or
  • How much wind or solar distributor connection energy was produced or
  • How much money was generated from sales of surplus exported power to our neighbours and
  • How much that exported power cost Ontario’s ratepayers

IESO is responsible for the financial aspects of settling (contracted and/or regulated) with each and every generator in the province either directly or via local distribution companies, and also must settle with the buyers and sellers of both our exported and imported energy. In effect they play a major role in determining the final cost of what each and every ratepayer are charged for the line on their bills reading either “electricity” and “GA” or Global Adjustment.

They should be the purveyors of all the “public data” from the energy sector Premier Wynne referenced in her letter to us in September 2013 but as noted, they are falling short.

A recent event made that obvious.

On January 18, 2017, IESO issued a News Release, “ Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator Releases 2016 Electricity Data”. The release had a table summarizing Ontario’s transmission connected generator output by fuel type, listing the outputs as: Nuclear 91.4 TWh (terawatt hours), Hydro 35.6 TWh, and Wind 9.0 TWh respectively.   Two days later, those three “outputs” were suddenly different with Nuclear at 91.7 TWh, Hydro at 35.7 and Wind at 9.3 TWh.

No apologies, no explanations or even a mention they altered the original News Release. The .7 TWh added to the output represents a cost of about $70 million ratepayers will pay, yet no explanation was posted about the change.

In Ontario today, transparency is shrouded in fog, and “spending wisely” has been forsaken by this government, in the badly managed electricity sector.

No natural gas, more natural gas: what is the Wynne government’s game?

February 6, 2017

In April 2015 Brad Duguid, then Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure issued a press release stating: “Increased natural gas access, through the $200 million Natural Gas Access Loan and $30 million Natural Gas Economic Development Grant, will attract new industry, make commercial transportation and agriculture more affordable, help to create jobs, provide more energy choices and will lower electricity prices for businesses and consumers across Ontario.”

The focus was expansion in rural communities and the money offered would do wonderful things including lowering “electricity prices.”  The Duguid statement appears to have flowed from the 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) released by Bob Chiarelli when he held the Energy Minister’s portfolio as noted in the OEB’s 2014-2017 Business Plan.

Just days ago, another press release was issued on the same issue by Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Infrastructure:  “Ontario is expanding access to natural gas for communities that do not currently have service, including those in rural and Northern Ontario and First Nations communities.”  It gave a “Quick Fact”: “Natural gas is the dominant heating source in Ontario and continues to be consistently less expensive than alternative sources such as electricity, heating oil and propane.” The Chiarelli announcement increased the “grant” amount to $100 million.

The recent announcement indicates the Duguid offer fell flat so perhaps Chiarelli’s announcement is an effort to see the claim he endorsed in the 2013 LTEP as one he is determined to follow through on, even if it raises Ontario’s debt by $100 million!

It is also ironic that Chiarelli is pushing expansion of natural gas consumption while our current Energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault is heading in the opposite direction. He recently instructed IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) to basically shut several of the NUG (non-utility generators) gas plants down. Minister Thibeault’s recent directive to IESO notes:  “Ontario has put in place legislation for its new cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas pollution while moving to a low-carbon economy.”   Most NUG contracts are gas generation units whose original contracts (executed in the Peterson Liberal government days) are close to expiry, and are “take or pay” contracts.  With the  surplus of power today, Minister Thibeault considers them expendable.  As a result the directive instructed IESO to renew contracts but only: “if the IESO is able to negotiate replacement contracts (IESO Contracts) with OEFC NUGs that incentivize them to operate in a manner that is better aligned with the integrated power system’s needs.”

As noted by Scott Luft some of those NUG contracts have been renegotiated, others ended, (the plants will be closed or mothballed) while some are in the process of  renegotiation.  One of those cancelled contracts offered to produce and sell power for 5.9 cents/kWh, but that offer was rejected even though it was way under prices paid for generation from industrial wind turbines and solar panels. Both those forms of power generation are unable to generate power when needed.

Is the objective of the Energy Minister to reduce emissions from gas plants so Premier Wynne can claim the “cap and trade” tax is working?

Meanwhile, if Minister Chiarelli is successful at handing out the $100 million tax dollars as grants to expand natural gas use, emissions will increase! Any increase will generate additional cap and trade revenue to help pay for the grants and the early shutdown of those gas plants.

Here’s the game: reduce emissions in the (already clean) electricity sector while pushing them up elsewhere and capture additional taxes along the way.

The topsy-turvy world of power policy in Ontario continues.

Amherst Island: perfect example of why wind power can be a bad choice

Ontario’s Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, at the launch of planning for the next Long-Term Energy Plan, said “We have a robust supply of all forms of energy for at least the next 10 years.”  The month prior to the launch he announced the suspension of LRP II  slated to acquire another 1,000 MW of renewable energy.  His claim at that time was, it would save ratepayers $3.8 billion in electricity costs over the projected term of the contracts.

Cancel the contracts 

Why didn’t he go further and cancel contracts that have not broken ground and saved billions more?   Amherst Island’s “Windlectric” project, owned by Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., project is just one. On its own, cancellation could save Ontario ratepayers over $500 million in future costs.  Those contracts, signed years ago, either have not been built or are involved in litigation preventing them from breaking ground.   Their sunk costs are small in comparison to their full costs over 20 years and canceling them outright would represent a nominal cost to ratepayers while saving, birds, bats, butterflies and endangered species from harm as well as prevent human health effects, and depreciation to property values.

Cancellation would reduce the amount of surplus energy that is exported at a cost to ratepayers or simply curtailed, but paid for by ratepayers. Savings would be in the billions.

Amherst Island—Owl Capital of North America

 In the July/August 2003 copy of “Wildbird”, Kevin T. Karlson wrote this article “Owl Capital of North America.” and said “An occasional glance at these ‘owls in wonderland’ always brings a smile to my face.” The Owl Woods is the only place where it is possible to see ten species of owls in one day.

Amherst Island, 66 square kilometers in size, is situated west of Kingston along the northeastern shore of Lake Ontario close to the St. Lawrence River and considered a “Hidden Cultural Gem.” The island is the first of the world famous 1,000 islands based on the water flow. The permanent population of about 450 residents swells to over 1,000 during the summer months and attracts visitors from all over the world. People come to see the culture and history of a settlement dating back to the late 1700s by the Empire Loyalists and the Irish immigrants who followed. Many also come to see the birds as the island is on the IBAs (Important Bird Areas) list. Amherst Island is home to “as many as 34 different species at risk known to rely on the Island’s natural environment for survival.” including the threatened Blandings turtle.  

The foregoing paragraph should make the reader wonder exactly why, back in 2011 the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) granted the contract to a shell company (Windlectric) established by Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. Subsequent to the contract award the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), since relabeled the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), granted a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) with some modifications to the original contract.  One wonders why the REA was granted as Amherst Island was already designated as an IBA and known as the Owl Capital of North America.  Was it simply because the OPA (now merged with IESO [Independent Electricity System Operator]) gave them a contract, or was the MOECC unconcerned about the heritage of the island and the many species at risk?  

For over 10 years, residents of Amherst Island and their onshore supporters have battled proposals to blanket the Island with industrial wind turbines. The support received by APAI (Association to Protect Amherst Island) has been overwhelming coming from many different groups and individuals, including those who support wind power as renewable energy. Among them are Nature Canada and Ontario Nature who jointly wrote an 18-page letter to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in March, 2013. Their logical defence of wildlife had no effect on the outcome of the appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal.

In fact, the decision of the Tribunal in August of 2015 was a major failure according to Nature Canada: “The Amherst decision is a reminder that we are missing adequate government policy that both promotes renewables in the right places while recognizing and protecting our key biodiversity areas including Canada’s nearly 600 Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBAs) such as Amherst Island and the South Shore of Prince Edward County.” 

Organizations as diverse as Heritage Canada The National Trust, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Kingston Field Naturalists, the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland, BirdLife International, the Maryland Ornithological Society, the Hawk Migration Association of North America, Pennsylvania Ornithological Society, and Brereton Field Naturalists’ Club all oppose turbines on Amherst Island.

Economic impact

 The Windlectric project proposes 26 wind turbines with a capacity of 74.3 MW and according to the specifications, would be Siemens turbines each with a total height in excess of 500 feet with a hub height of about 330 feet and a blade radius of almost 180 feet. If they generate electricity at the anticipated norm of 30% of capacity, they will produce about 195,000 megawatts (MWh) intermittently and out of synch with Ontario demand. Windlectric will be paid $135 per/MWh plus cost of living benefits up to 20% more, so as much as $162 per/MWh in the latter years of their contract term. At an average of $140 per/MWh, the gross revenue to Windlectric will be $27.3 million annually, or about $550 million over the life of the contract.

Loyalist Township, where Amherst Island is located, was obligated to allow the Windlectric project to proceed because the Green Energy Act in 2009 stripped all municipalties’ local land use planning powers as regards an energy project. The best the township could do was reach agreement on a “Community Benefit Fund” for an annual payment of approximately $520K. Added to that will be realty taxes of around $240K. Ontario limits the assessed value of wind turbines to only $40K per MW. The assessed value of the 26 turbines will be less than $3 million, but their capital cost is over $200 million.

All-in, the township will get about $760K annually — 2.8% of the revenue to Windlectric. Obviously, the contributions Algonquin Power and other large renewable energy companies gave to the Ontario Liberal Party were worth the money.

So, Ontario has a “robust supply” of electricity, wind turbines will harm the 34 endangered species, and we are exporting surplus generation at pennies on the dollar while curtailing wind, spilling hydro and steaming off nuclear energy.   Ontario doesn’t need the intermittent power from the turbines on Amherst Island. We don’t need them in Prince Edward County either (White Pines) (or Dutton-Dunwich, or La Nation, or North Stormont). The Minister should demonstrate that he means what he said recently in North Bay:  “There are some families in this province that are struggling to meet their energy bills. It’s why I’ve recognized and the premier has recognized that we need to do more …That is why we’re making sure we can find ways to reduce bills. Everything is on the table within reason.”

The Minister has an opportunity to save ratepayers $1 billion dollars in future rate increases by simply canceling the Amherst Island Windlectric project and the Prince Edward County White Pines project, to name two.

He should take it.

Surplus power: the other side of wind’s “success story”

Napanee gas plant: more flexible resources needed to offset intermittent wind -- trouble is, they also push emissions up
Napanee gas plant: more flexible resources needed to offset intermittent wind — trouble is, they also push emissions up

January 23, 2017

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) summarized their submission on Ontario’s long-term energy plan (LTEP) to the IESO on their website.  “Ontario is the Canadian leader in clean wind energy with 4,781 megawatts of installed capacity, supplying about 5 per cent of the electricity that Ontarians depend on,” CanWEA said. “Wind has been the largest source of new electricity generation across Canada over the past decade. Over this time, costs have come down as capacity factors have increased.”

Here’s the other side of that apparent success story. It’s not as rosy as CanWEA, the wind power industry lobbyist, would like you to believe.

The IESO just released the 2016 Electricity Data indicating industrial wind turbines (IWT) were responsible for the generation of 9.0 terawatts (TWh) of power, representing 6% of Ontario demand of 137 TWh.

What IESO doesn’t say about wind power generation, however, is annoying.  IWT generation in 2016 was actually10.7 TWh when DX (distributor connected) industrial-scale wind turbines or IWTs are included.  If the 2.2 TWh of “curtailed” wind is added, the bill to ratepayers was for 13 TWh.  The estimate of curtailed and DX wind comes from Scott Luft who does a remarkable job of tracking what is actually happening with generation.  IESO fails to disclose either curtailed or DX generation for whatever reason as they are the settlement agent for all generation in the province.

They have the data available to supply the public with those details.

Surplus baseload means possible grid failure

Not surprisingly IESO continue to run “stakeholder committees” that generate reports disclosing concerns about the intermittent and unreliable nature of wind (and solar), referencing it as “Variable Generation.” They note the production of Surplus Baseload Generation (SBG) which may cause grid failure leading to brownouts or blackouts. One of those reports from May 2016 noted: “SBG in ~65% of hours in 2015, even with 2 major nuclear outages” and “So far, SBG in ~88% of hours in 2016”.

Interestingly enough the current Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault on December 16, 2016 issued a directive to IESO instructing them to negotiate an exit from some of the NUG (non-utility generators) gas contracts labeled as “baseload” generators. IESO obeyed the directive as noted by my friend Scott Luft in his recent post “Ontario’s IESO steps off the gas”. We should suspect this action was not aimed at reducing SBG, but instead is aimed as trying to give credibility to the addition of the “cap and trade” tax that took effect January 1, 2017 by showing some negligible reduction in emissions.

The oxymoron in that is also to be found in a June 2016 IESO report titled: “Review of the Operability of the IESO-Controlled Grid to 2020” which suggested:

“We recommend enhancing the flexibility of Ontario supply resources to ensure that there are increased quantities of resources able to address the hour-ahead VG forecast inaccuracy, 95% of the time. This translates to needing ~1,000 MW of additional flexibility. The additional flexibility needs to be located in unconstrained parts of the system to ensure they can operate without restriction. Methods to enhance the flexibility of Ontario resources could include: increased utilization of existing resources, enabling simple cycle operation at combined cycle plants, or adding new peaking generation, grid energy storage or demand response resources. Methods chosen, which are expected to happen through open competitive processes, must ensure that they are cost effective and can meet expected operational duty requirements – given that these resources are required in the near-term to address reliability needs.”

Serious problems with wind

What IESO’s concerns and subsequent recommendations suggest is the variable and unpredictable nature of wind generation has created serious problems in the eyes of those entrusted to run Ontario’s electricity system.

So, here are the facts: power generation from wind cost Ontario’s ratepayers over $1.7 billion (approximately 12% of total generation costs) in 2016 for just over 6% of demand, and will cause ratepayers hydro bills to be further affected negatively.   IESO’s responsibility to manage the system through the exercises suggested in their recommendations will cost the system more money, increasing costs just to ensure industrial wind developments are able to extract money from the pockets of Ontario’s ratepayers.

The government of Ontario led by Premier Wynne will (in the near future) claim their actions on the electricity file were instrumental in reducing emissions, but here’s the thing: the flexible resources IESO seeks will push the emissions up again.

The trick is, that won’t be seen until after the 2018 election.

Letter to Energy Minister Thibeault: facts not insults, please

The Honourable Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy

Dear Minister Thibeault:

I just read your “Guest Column” in the Toronto Sun headlined: “Energy minister rips report on closing coal plants.”

Your article seeks to discredit the work of the Fraser Institute referring to it as a “right-wing” institution, and the principal author as a “climate change denier” despite their record of achievements!

Interestingly enough, you don’t stop there to insult the authors, but ramble on with further insults and launch into rhetoric without any discernable facts.   You cite a variety of organizations without offering any specifics on how they; either researched the relationships between Ontario’s coal plants and those in neighbouring jurisdictions, or the effects of what those plants were spewing that wound up in Ontario’s air.   If you bothered to actually research the information the report contains you will see the authors effectively proved closing Ontario’s coal plants did little to improve air quality but what was effective turned out to be the switching of electricity generation in our neighbours’ land from coal generation to gas generation.  The prevailing winds did the rest! 

Throwing insults around is not an effective way to make a point.

It is interesting that you pick one year only to note the number of “smog days” Ontario experienced.  If you had checked with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change you would have learned that in  2012 we had 30 such days, in 2009 we had only five, but in 2007 we had 39.  If you are going to cite statistics you should not just pick one that makes the weak point you are striving for unless you can prove it wasn’t an aberration.

Your closing was presumably meant to show your compassion (like the Prime Minister’s hug the other night) and it does a nice job but I would note a lot of people remember back in July, August and September when all the bad news was hitting the press about energy poverty, people having to choose between eating or paying their electricity bill.  At that time Ontarians found out that at the end of 2015 there were 566,902 ratepaying households in arrears and 60,000 ratepayers were disconnected.  Those households in arrears represented over 12% of all of Ontario’s ratepayers and the many of the 60,000 households cut off had some very sad stories that the mainstream media picked up on.

Your compassion at that time was not flattering and the fix you brought in has been mitigated by the advent of the “cap and trade” tax that will continue to cause energy poverty. 

It is time your Ministry accepted responsibility for the mess that has been created in this province, home to the highest electricity prices in the country and the fastest rising in the U.S. or Canada.

Yours truly,

Parker Gallant,

A concerned citizen

Ontario electricity customers paid millions for wind in November

January 14, 2017

strongwindweather

The line of poetry “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good” was a reality in November for Ontario ratepayers. The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) finally released their November 2016 Monthly Market Report on Friday, January 13, 2017 and there was not much good news in it.

While net exports* were down compared to the same month in 2015, it wasn’t related to the amount of wind power generated and curtailed (estimates of the latter from Scott Luft); that exceeded November 2015 by about 152,000 megawatts (MWh) and clocked in at 1,363,000 MWh.  Generated and curtailed power exceeded Ontario’s net exports in 2015, representing 102.7% versus 72.9% the previous year.  One should suspect November 2016 also saw spilled hydro and steamed off nuclear, but at 102.7% of our net exports, it is obvious that power generation from wind was clearly not needed.

November 2016 was not the month with the highest combination of generated and curtailed wind, but rather the second highest. The highest, according to Scott’s estimates, was December 2016, but we will save that report for another day.

Exported power could have served half of Ontario

Net exports in November 2016 were equivalent to the power that approximately 150,000 “average”** Ontario households would use in a year, or to put it another way, was sufficient to supply 2.4 million of those same households for the whole month of November. That is slightly more than 50% of all Ontario households.

The net exports of 1,326,960 MWh in November 2016 cost Ontario ratepayers $169 million to generate and sold at an average price of $16.69 per/MWh, resulting in income of  $21.4 million.  What that means is, Ontario’s electricity ratepayers subsidized the sale, picking up the difference of $l47.4 million, along with another $30.8 million for the 254,000 MWh of curtailed wind.  Past and present Energy Ministers in the Wynne-led government would probably claim the deeply discounted sale price for those exported MWh was actually a “profit” but most ratepayers recognize that claim to be untrue.

Cancel the contracts

Current Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has a chance to make his mark by halting all planned acquisition of wind power generation in LRP I and LRP II, as well as cancelling any wind power projects that have not commenced construction, or which have passed their critical “operational” dates.

Time to treat industrial-scale wind power development as that “ill wind”!

© Parker Gallant

*Net Exports are total exports less total imports.

**The Ontario Energy Board claims the “average” Ontario household consumes 9 MWh annually, or 9,000 kilowatts.