Should the Pickering nuclear plant be closed? Not based on cost and performance…

Pickering: working at 95% capacity during the heat wave [Photo: OPG]
July 6, 2018

Wind power a failure during recent high demand during heat wave; dependable power needed

I got a call at 11 a.m. on June 25th from the producer of the Scott Thompson show on CHML 900 AM to appear on the show to discuss the suggestion by NDP leader Andrea Horwath about closing the Pickering Nuclear plant.

Essentially it was about her statement during the election campaign indicating the NDP’s position on Pickering:  “we will begin the decommissioning process immediately, which will bring more jobs to the area — as opposed to the Liberal plan, which is to mothball that facility for 30 years and allow the next generation to figure out the decommissioning”.

Doug Ford, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, on the other hand stated: “The Pickering plant can continue to safely operate until at least 2024. We can generate 14 per cent of Ontario’s power needs right here”.

The producer suggested Scott wanted to explore the opposing issues with me.

Aware I was scheduled to be on his show at 12:35 p.m., and remembering that a Brady Yauch article a few months earlier in the Financial Post had suggested closing Pickering, I felt I should do more research before the call back.  Brady’s principal point was Pickering was a poor performer and the estimated costs ($300 million) of the extension would prove to be negative for ratepayers.

OPG’s website describes Pickering as follows: “Pickering Nuclear has six operating CANDU® (CANadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors. The station has a total output of 3,100 megawatts (MW) which is enough to serve a city of one and a half million people, and about 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.”.

Pickering Nuclear traces its roots back to 1971 when it first commenced operation with four units and expanded to eight units in 1983.  Two of the first four units have been in voluntary lay-up since 1997.  The CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) awarded OPG’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations its highest safety rating in 2017.

Combined, the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations generated 10.4 TWh (terawatts) of power for the 1st Quarter of 2018 at a combined cost of 7.2 cents/kWh (up from 5.8 cents/kWh in the comparable quarter).  The 10.4 TWh was sufficient to supply the 4.6 million average residential households in the province.

Directing my research to IESO’s hourly Generator Report I was able to discern Pickering at hour 10 of June 25th had just generated 2,308 MWh out of 10,457 MWh produced by all the nuclear plants in the province.  Pickering nuclear represented 22% of nuclear generation at that hour, 15.6% of Ontario demand and 14% of total demand (including exports).   At hour 10, wind turbines were generating 452 MWh or 10% of their capacity versus Pickering nuclear which was operating at about 74.5% of its capacity.

Both nuclear and wind are classified as “base-load” generation!

As it turned out, when I was on Scott’s show the bulk of our chat was related to his prior guest’s discussions about Premier Ford’s cancellation of the “cap and trade” tax.  Only a couple of questions were raised about Pickering which I responded to.

Interestingly enough, now that the Ontario July heat wave has passed, I felt the urge to look at the performance of Pickering and IWT over the seven days when peak demand was high.  Pickering nuclear performed well generating close to 3,000 MWh each and every hour over the period meaning it was operating at over 95% of capacity.  Wind power generation, however was all over the map reaching a high of 2,769 MWh (62% of capacity) at midnight July 1st and a low of 5 MWh (0.11% of capacity) at 10AM on July 4th!

It is obvious that wind fails miserably as “base-load” generation when needed and the relative cost of generating power (sans back-up costs) is over 17 cents/kWh.

It sure looks like we should keep Pickering nuclear operating, as Premier Ford suggested.

Parker Gallant