Ontario’s new energy plan: bragging, promises, and unanswered questions

Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) 2017 is labeled “Delivering Fairness and Choice”. It comes on the heels of the Fair Hydro Act, indicating the government has moved beyond their Stretch Goal concept and now, pre-election, favour the term “fair”.

The 2017 LTEP is full of self-congratulation starting with the Minister’s Message describing their concept of fair! Energy Minister Thibeault says:

“Delivering Fairness and Choice makes an important commitment: we will strive to make energy more affordable, and give customers more choices in their energy use, ensuring that Ontarians and their families continue to be at the centre of everything we do.”

He goes on to state, “By eliminating coal-fired generation, we now have an electricity system that is more than 90 per cent free of emissions that cause climate change. The phase-out of coal-fired generation and our investments in clean generation have contributed to dramatically improved air quality in Ontario – smog advisories have dropped from 53 as recently as 2005 to zero in 2016.”

The latter comment makes one wonder why he went back to 2005 instead of going to 2012, but perhaps it was because the claim wouldn’t look nearly as impressive. By that time the Liberals had been in power for over nine years. It is worth noting that in 2012 the coal plants generated only 4.3 TWh of electricity and there were 30 days with smog advisories.

Minister Thibeault continues by describing the wonders of what (they claim) has been accomplished, and broadly describes future plans while elaborating on how government “is using this opportunity to move ahead with innovative ideas for managing the system and reducing costs. Initiatives such as Market Renewal will ensure the province has appropriate sources of electricity at the lowest possible price. This initiative could save Ontarians up to $5.2 billion over a 10-year period.” 

In a quick review of the 156 pages of the report I found several other claims about all the money they previously saved, together with how much the 2017 LTEP will save! Here are some of them spread throughout the plan:

  • Deferring the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, avoiding an estimated $15 billion in new construction costs;
  • Driving down the cost of renewable energy generation through annual reviews of Feed-In Tariff (FIT) pricing, revised procurement totals, and the introduction of competitive procurement for large renewable projects. This reduced the cost of renewable energy generation by at least $3 billion, compared to the forecast in the 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (2013 LTEP);
  • Suspending the second round of the large renewable procurement process (LRP ll) and the Energy-from-Waste Standard Offer Program. This is expected to save up to $3.8 billion compared to the forecast in the 2013 LTEP;
  • Renegotiating the Green Energy Investment Agreement with Samsung, reducing contract costs by $3.7 billion;
  • Starting the refurbishments at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in 2020, instead of 2016, helping to save $1.7 billion compared to the forecast in the 2013 LTEP; and
  • Pending regulatory approvals, continuing to operate the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station up to 2024, for an estimated saving for ratepayers of as much as $600 million.

Do the quick math on the above statements, without the savings of $5.2 billion from the “Market Renewal”, you will quickly note they total $27.8 billion! Reading about the above savings one notes a substantial amount of the savings comes from pushing expenditures into the future which will presumably coincide with repayment of the money deferred under the Fair Hydro Plan. That means our children and grandchildren will face some dreadful electricity costs!

One of Minister Thibeault’s closing sentences tells us, “Our plan will ensure we can all depend on a clean and reliable supply of affordable energy to power our households and businesses for many years to come.”

With those purported savings of $27.8 billion we should ask Minister Thibeault to please explain why rates have gone up so much since the Green Energy and Economy Act was passed by the Legislature in 2009?

We should then ask him, why his newly minted 2017 Plan indicates they will continue to climb in future years at well over anticipated inflation rates?

 

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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.

Energy stakeholders to the Wynne government: the new plan should focus on costs

January 11, 2017

Last October, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault launched the “Discussion Guide to Start the Conversation” with the objective of “Planning Ontario’s Energy Future”. The Long-Term Energy Plan or LTEP when presented in 2017 will be the sixth LTEP (including 1 and 1[a], discarded by Smitherman) developed by the current government in the past nine years, which says a lot about “long-term” planning.

Naturally when an opportunity to contribute to policy comes along, organizations offer their views on the direction the plan should take. I have prepared a review of some of the comments made to the Ministry of Energy on the LTEP.

First we have Robert Hornung (MA, Political Science), president of wind power trade association and lobbyist the Canadian Wind Energy Association or CanWEA, who suggested “The only way to meet those goals [reducing carbon emissions] is to increase the use of electricity, particularly electricity generated from sources that don’t emit carbon. Wind is well-positioned to meet that need.”

Then Jack Gibbons (former Toronto Hydro commissioner) of Ontario Clean Air Alliance said: “While the world shifts to green sources, Ontario is doubling down on nuclear, rebuilding ten aging reactors, while pushing renewable energy to the fringe. This is a bad plan and an economically disastrous direction . . . Ontario should set a target or moving to 100 per cent renewable energy by 20150.” [sic]

Now that is what I call “long-term planning”!

On the other hand we have organizations who are interested in ensuring electricity rates stop rising at multiples of the inflation rate.

Canadian Federation of Independent Business – The CFIB suggested in their comments to the Energy Ministry that “Ontario Hydro rates are out of control”; they met with the Minister of Energy and made the following recommendations.

• Eliminate all time-of-use (Smart Meter) rates for small businesses and implement a lower cost rate system on the first 3,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity consumed per month.
• Accelerate the removal of the Debt Retirement Charge from commercial hydro bills, which is currently slated for April 1, 2018.
• Require the display of the “Global Adjustment” on all hydro bills to increase transparency.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation – The Canadian Taxpayers Federation website posting shows their concern:
“If Hydro Rates are ‘Urgent Issue’ for Wynne, She Must Repeal Green Energy Act” and also, “Ontario customers have seen the largest increase in electricity prices anywhere in Canada – more than 60 per cent higher than the national average between 2006 and 2015.”

Ontario Chamber of Commerce – The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) were more subdued but their report of July 2015 commented: “The price of electricity is a major factor in the overall cost of doing business for many companies. As such, it is also a critical component of a jurisdiction’s competitiveness in the global economy. Jurisdictions with high electricity prices are at a disadvantage when it comes to creating jobs and attracting investment.”
The OCC’s submission on this LTEP noted in muted tones: “the addition of renewable energy resources under the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program has contributed to overall systems costs by guaranteeing long-term and above-market payouts to generators.”

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters – The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) were much more aggressive in their submission on the LTEP. “We are calling for immediate relief for manufacturers from Ontario’s sky-high electricity rates and a longer term plan to use the system as a tool for economic development” said Ian Howcroft, Vice President of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) Ontario Division. And “we urge the government to push further and faster to bring rates in line with competing jurisdictions.”
CME’s priorities for reductions included several recommendations including: Providing relief targeting smaller to medium sized manufacturers that aren’t covered by existing programs, and eliminating the Debt Retirement Charge (DRC), and “Offering more surplus capacity to manufacturers” among other suggestions.
Finally, they added this grave warning: “Lower manufacturing rates are necessary to retain and attract investment in Ontario rather than seeing it go to other jurisdictions.”

Ontario Society of Professional Engineers – A September 2016 article by Terence Corcoran of the Financial Post noted “Experts and analysts have been warning of the excess wind and solar expansions for years. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers’ Paul Acchione warned in 2012 that wind expansion is ‘costly’ and ‘technically difficult to integrate’ into the Ontario system.” OSPE’s submission on the LTEP is a focused document that carries a lot of interesting facts. For example, they say this about power generation from wind:
“Wind generation has relatively little economic value in Ontario’s low emission power system.”

OSPE’s recommendations on ways to reduce the price of electricity are: Reduce operating costs or increase revenue from the sale of surplus electricity; Move existing costs not directly associated with producing electricity into tax-supported accounts; Transfer market risks from electricity consumers to investors; and, Remove government sales and water use taxes on electricity.
While the recommendations appear short and simple people “in the know” will recognize the seriousness subtly expressed in each of those four recommendations.

Strategic Policy Economics – Marc Brouillette’s excellent submission on behalf of Bruce Nuclear also carries some sane observations such as “Wind generation has not matched demand since its introduction in Ontario” and, “Over 70% of wind generation does not benefit Ontario’s supply capability.” And this one, which is becoming more evident as ratepayers are forced to pay for curtailed generation: “Wind generation will not match demand in the OPO Outlook future projections as 50% of the forecasted production is expected to be surplus.”

The recommendation that will cause the most handwringing will be: “The LTEP should integrate the objectives of Ontario’s environmental, energy, industrial, and economic policies for the long-term future benefit of Ontarians.”

Wind Concerns Ontario – The coalition of community groups and individuals throughout Ontario had this to say by way of advice to the Ministry: “The government policy to promote “renewables” such as wind and solar have been a critical factor in the grave economic situation today. Wind power for example, now represents 22% of electricity cost, while providing only 5.9% of the power. Worse, that power is produced out-of-phase with demand, as has been detailed by two Auditors General; so much of it is wasted. This is unsustainable.

“Clearly,” WCO continued, “the direction for the Ministry of Energy is to formulate a new Long-Term Energy Plan that will take immediate action on reducing electricity costs. Those actions must include a review of all contractual obligations for power generation from wind, and action to mitigate further costs to the system, and the over-burdened people of Ontario.”

WCO called for cancellation of all the wind power contracts given in 2016, the FIT 5.0 program, and further, cancellation of all contracts for projects not yet built or which are not going to make a critical commercial operation date. In fact, all wind power contracts should be reviewed and paid out, as Ontario can save money by eliminating the need to dispose of the surplus electricity.

 

Time will tell what the Long-Term Energy Plan will look like, but if it doesn’t include direct action to reduce actual costs to the system, it will be no plan at all.