Ontario’s industrial wind turbines many costs

Wind’s visible costs

An article posted February 10, 2020 highlighted how wind generation, on its own, represented a cost of $12.760 billion over the ten years from 2010 to 2019 to Ontario ratepayers. Industrial wind turbines (IWT) had delivered 83.3 TWh and curtailed 10.5 TWh over that time.  The combined cost of the generation and curtailment represented an average delivered cost per kWh of 15.32 cents without factoring in costs of gas plants being at the ready when the wind wasn’t blowing or spilling clean hydro.

Over the same ten years, exports of surplus power to our neighbours cost ratepayers about $12.5 billion dollars. Wind’s habit of generating power in the middle of the night and spring and fall when demand is low drives down the market price; HOEP (Hourly Ontario Energy Price), resulting in export sales at prices well below contracted rates. This results in ratepayers having to pay the difference.

Last weekend (February 22nd and 23rd) was no exception.  The wind was blowing for the two days but Ontario Demand was low averaging 341,800 MWh.  IWT however, were generating power we didn’t need with grid accepted wind at 148,175 MWh and 14,900 MWh curtailed.  The cost of both, was $24 million or 16.2 cents/kWh. IESO was busy exporting surplus power of 141,648 MWh or 96% of grid accepted wind. On top of that we were probably spilling water (and paying for it) at the same time.

The question the foregoing elicits is; how much were we paid for those exports?  Exports sold February 22nd were at the average price of $1.99/MWh and $1.64/MWh on the 23rd so total revenue earned was a miserly $239 thousand versus a cost to ratepayers and taxpayers of the province of over $24 million just for what the IWT delivered.  Our neighbours must love us!

Winds hidden costs

While the foregoing confirms IWT have the habit of being unreliable and intermittent and require backup from gas plants they also have other bad habits.  One example is their killing of birds. The Audubon Society has suggested it is anywhere from 140,000 to 328,000 annually. They also kill bats in large numbers. Bird Studies Canada in 2016 estimated the kill rate in Ontario was 18.5 kills per turbine (over 50,000 annually). Many killed are on the endangered list!  Additionally, tourism areas may also be negatively affected by IWT as noted in a poll in Scotland by the “John Muir Trust (JMT) found that 55% of respondents were “less likely” to venture into areas of the countryside industrialised by giant turbines”.

A recent report from Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) raises many other negative issues related to IWT!  The report is a synopsis of complaints about IWT submitted by rural residents of Ontario living within close proximity of IWT.  Those complaints were submitted to the MOECC (now the MOECP. The report titled: “Response to Wind Turbine Noise Complaints” analyzed 674 complaints made during 2017.  The shocking issue revealed is: “Only nine of the 674 complaints, or 1.3% of total records, indicated that there was a field response.”  What that suggests is the MOECP’s field offices are either not equipped to deal with complaints or believe the IWT contracted parties will somehow resolve them.  In excess of 5,200 complaints have been logged by WCO since IWT first started to appear in the province and most of them were related to audible and inaudible (infrasound) noise levels. Other complaints have been associated with aquifer (water) contamination, shadow flicker, ice throws, etc.

Approximately 15% of the population will experience negative health effects from the proximity of IWT; a similar percentage to those who suffer from motion sickness.  The effects of audible and infrasound noise will produce; nausea, headaches, anxiety, ringing ears, feeling of exhaustion, etc.  Those individuals will naturally contact their doctors or other health care professionals for treatment adding to the cost of Ontario’s health care system. Those costs are not attributed to the cause, which are the IWT!

Other outcomes where IWT add (hidden) costs is in respect to property values as they are driven lower.  Many studies have confirmed values drop and an Ontario Superior Court ruling suggested the drop was from 22% to 55%.  The drop in values affects the realty tax base in municipalities hosting IWT and could result in lost services due to declining revenue or a substantial increase in realty taxes.

Let’s summarize the visible and invisible costs of IWT:

  1. Increased electricity costs due to the need for duplicate power sources such as gas plants.
  2. Increased surplus power which must be curtailed or sold for pennies on the dollar.
  3. Increased costs due to IWT inability to generate power when actually needed.
  4. Increased surplus power from IWT often means other clean sources must either spill (hydro) or steam off (nuclear) power which adds costs to our electricity bills.
  5. IWT kill birds and bats, many of whom are “species at risk” meaning insects, damaging to crops, are not eaten and farmers must spray their crops with insecticides adding costs to produce.
  6. IWT may affect tourism areas driving away tourists and thereby affect income to those regions.
  7. IWT cause various health problems requiring our health system to respond to individuals affected, thereby adding to health care costs.
  8. IWT cause property values to fall affecting the realty tax base where they operate and the value of the property should the occupants try to sell after the installation of those IWT has occurred.
  9. IWT lifespan is relatively short (20 years at most) compared to traditional sources of electricity generation and when unable to perform, create costs of remediation and disposal of recyclable and non-recyclable materials they consumed when built and erected.

While CanWEA will brag  about the fact that the “fuel” powering IWT is free they ignore all of the other costs.  Is it any wonder, even though electricity from a wind turbine was first created by Sir James Blyth in 1887, it failed to have an influence on the “electrification” of either the UK or anywhere else in the world. Until the UNIPCC forecast their purported concern about “global warming”, IWT were generally found only in very remote locations.  The technology is 133 years old but the “climate emergency” advocates think it’s still relevant!

My forecast is IWT will never, ever, fully replace fossil fuels due to their costs, unreliability, the harm they cause to humans and to birds, bats and turtles! This old technology should be disregarded in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

IESO and their colourful 2019 Year-end Data

IESO, the Independent Electricity System Operator, finally released the data for 2019 related to generation, consumption and costs for electricity in Ontario within the TX (transmission connected) grid. Unless one understands how the system operates (along with basic math knowledge) you would be inclined to think—wow, we are so lucky to have such an awesome institution managing our electricity system.  A good amount of the dialogue in the report seems meant to tell the reader how well IESO managed the system during a few erratic weather days when clouds suddenly blocked the sun and the wind either dropped or increased substantially without warning.

When you dive a little deeper into the data, you realize rates climbed again for Class B customers, be they residential, or small/medium sized businesses.

Those rates climbed despite Class B ratepayers reducing their consumption* from 101.0 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2018 to 98.4 TWh in 2019 for a decrease of 2.6 TWh (about what 300,000 average households consume annually) or 2.6%.

The 98.4 TWh in 2019, cost Class B ratepayers** $12,425.6 million versus $11,616.7 million in 2018 for the 101 TWh Class B ratepayers consumed.  The $808.9 million in additional costs (up 6.9%) added 9.8% (1.13 cents/kWh) to electricity costs for Class B ratepayers bills but IESO’s rhetoric skips over that data!

As a coincidence (?) to the $808.9 million increase; IESO’s diatribe under the heading “Other 2019 Highlights” claims: “The Market Renewal Program business case confirmed a $800 million net benefits over ten years.”  A quick math calculation suggests the annual savings of the “Program” was/is $80 million annually versus the costs for the one-year jump Class B ratepayers experienced.  The 10 year savings IESO’s brags about were blown away in only one year.

So, what caused the $808.9 Million jump?                                                                                     A goodly portion of the additional costs were a result of recovering less on sales of surplus generation to our neighbours in NY, Michigan and elsewhere.  When we export our electricity, we are only able to recover the HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) as it Is market driven!  The HOEP for 2019 was 1.83 cents/kWh versus 2.43 cents/kWh in 2018 so we recovered less despite exporting more. The 19.779 TWh (about what 2.2 million average Ontario household consume annually) we exported, cost us about $333 million more to generate than last year’s exports. Those costs were included in the Global Adjustment which increased to 10.8 cents/kWh or $108 million per TWh.  The balance of the increase ($477 million) was principally related to the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) approving substantial rate increases for Bruce Power and OPG’s nuclear generation and refurbishment.  Scott Luft has done a great job of focusing on what was behind that big jump in a recent post.

IESO should do some real planning producing results that actually reduce rates!

*IESO in the report under the heading: “Energy-Efficiency Savings” brag about their Save on Energy programs which have reputedly contributed “to overall savings of 7.4 TWh since 2015”                          

**A large portion of costs to Class B “residential” ratepayers ONLY is now paid by taxpayers via the “Electricity Cost Relief Programs” and will total $5.5 billion for the current year. Unfortunately, small and medium sized businesses in the province are paying the full costs causing many to raise their prices and/or move their businesses to other jurisdictions.

CanWEA makes promises it can’t keep

CanWEA’s ramping up rhetoric

While Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), was all smiles at the trade association’s recent conference and exhibition in Calgary he must be concerned that the world is wising up to the unabashed conclusion: industrial wind turbines do nothing more than drive up electricity prices!  At the start of the conference Hornung launched “A Wind Energy Vision for Canada”, full of selective information aimed at rallying those present so they push the agenda and keep the gravy train rolling.

The CanWEA “vision” says nothing about how wind power projects affect humans by generating audible and inaudible noise along with infrasound or how they are responsible for killing birds and bats or even how they need back-up power when the wind is dormant.  The latter means the costs of delivering a kilowatt hour (kWh) of generation needs fast response back-up power at the ready to ramp up within minutes. Failing available back-up generation (usually natural gas) to respond to IWT cyclical, intermittent and unreliable generation would impact electricity grids causing brownouts or blackouts.

The CanWEA “vision” links to an October 1, 2018 posting on their website that brags about a variety of different issues, making claims like as “New wind energy would help keep Ontario’s electricity supply reliable, as well as more affordable.” And, this one: “Canada can get more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy”.  CanWEA backed this up by saying: Other jurisdictions around the world are proving this – for example, Denmark now produces more than 44 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines on an annual basis”.

What they fail to mention is that Denmark has the most expensive electricity costs in the EU with prices equivalent to Canadian $0.45cents/kWh.

A “Vision” claim                                                                                                                           The “vision” makes many claims that are spurious, including this one about environmental sustainability: “Wind energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, air or water pollution, nor hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste.”

That is superficial. Why? The intermittent and unreliable nature of wind requires it to be backed up with responsive generation generally in the form of natural gas or coal plants.  This is evident in particular in Germany (electricity prices are the 2nd highest in EU) where a recent article stated “Despite the billions spent on wind and solar, the country is still hooked on coal, relying on it for almost 40 percent of its electricity. Coal provides the backup power needed when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun isn’t shining, something that will become even more crucial when the last nuclear plants close in 2022.” The claim that wind turbines don’t produce greenhouse gases may be somewhat true, but due to their unreliable nature they cause greenhouses gases to be generated by their back-up fossil fuel plants.

The CanWEA statement suggesting wind turbines don’t cause “air or water pollution” can also be easily disputed. The spinning blades kill birds and bats and produce a range of noise emissions(audible and inaudible) which are linked to health problems.

We have also seen how construction and operation of turbines may be involved in the contamination and failure of wells as noted in Chatham Kent where well water was affected.   Hydrologist Bill Clarke noted: “Simply stated, wind towers, for generating electrical power, should never have been constructed over the extremely fragile contact aquifer of the Kettle Point shale” where 19 families experienced distinct, observable changes in their well water, which expresses itself as cloudy and often includes dark particulates.

It should also be noted that while the fuel powering the turbines is non-polluting, the average 400 tons of cement securing the turbines towers and the turbines and generators along with those blades are simply full of both toxic and hazardous waste, some of which is not recyclable!

More rhetoric                                                                                                                                  CanWEA wasn’t finished with the bombast.

On November 1, 2018 their blog carried this post: “Cancelling renewable energy contracts in Ontario will negatively impact investor confidence”!  Why? Well, the lobbyist group said, “Investors rely on the rule of law and contract rights when they scope, build and operate projects in the province. Calls for cancelling contracts and stranding assets shakes investor confidence and risks undermining Ontario’s investment climate – and at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.”

CanWEA naturally ignored the fact that the rebellion on Ontario electricity prices was caused by renewable energy (wind and solar) being granted first to the grid rights and long-term contracts with prices exceeding what other markets were paying.  Those excessive electricity costs have driven investment out of the province in droves commencing with the passing of the Green Energy Act when, shortly after passing, Xstrata announced it would close its Timmins smelter and move it to Quebec.  One of the reasons for the closure was the high cost of electricity.

In a further effort to colour the costs to Ontario’s ratepayers of wind turbines, CanWEA proffered this reputed benefit: “The province’s wind sector will generate $12.5 billion in investment in Ontario in the 2006-2030 timeframe. Along with that investment will come 64,500 person-years of employment, $4.6 billion in earnings for Ontarians, and an additional $6.2 billion in provincial GDP.”

But that claim does not note the investment will extract approximately $45 billion from ratepayer’s pockets over the 24 years “2006-2030,” meaning the claimed investment will be returned four-fold!  Likewise, those 64,500 person-years of employment with the claimed $4.6 billion in earnings amounts to a miserly $3,000 per job when spread over those same 24 years.

The time has come for companies involved in industrial wind projects to pack their bags and find another country with gullible politicians!

PARKER GALLANT