More wind generation on Ontario electricity grid means more pollution

January 12, 2015

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer, 2015 January

It seems that the more wind there is on the Ontario electricity grid the more pollution there is. Case in point, a snapshot of the Independent Electricity System Operator’s (IESO) Generator Output and Capability Report for 2015 January 8 at 7 pm, which was a high wind high demand day. Wind was generating 2,631 MW, natgas or frackgas was generating 3,783 MW with the balance of the demand being met by nuclear and hydro. There were net exports of 3,500 MW. Now if there were no exports, natgas generation could have been reduced to 283 MW (assuming this low generation were achievable technically and under the must-run contracts) with a clean supply of nuclear, hydro and wind meeting the major part of the Ontario demand. Obviously 283 MW of natgas generation produces less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than 3,783 MW of natgas generation. So why did we need to export any gas generation in the first place since exports are highly subsidized by Ontario ratepayers to the benefit of the recipient jurisdiction?

This large amount of gas generation was likely exported because of the concern the IESO may have had with the risk of losing substantial wind generation under these circumstances (reference 1). Since most of the gas generation would be shutdown without exports the potential loss of 2,631 MW from wind would have had to be met from hydroelectric generation. With hydroelectric generation at this time already at a high 5,535 MW there may not have been enough extra MW and MWh available to cover the time period until the combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) units could be fired up and dispatched to meet the wind shortfall. Ontario has only one quick start simple cycle gas turbine (SCGT) unit of 393 MW. Imports from other jurisdictions may not be available since wind failures affect large geographical areas and Quebec may have needed all its generation in house or had it already committed. The solution seems to have been to keep the CCGTs running at around their lowest dispatchable load so that they would always be available in case wind generation failed and the only way to do this was to feed an export market (reference 2). If sufficient extra MW and MWh of hydroelectric generation were available until the demand dropped there would be less or even no need to fire up the CCGTs. However, over the next five years or so several thousand MWs of additional wind will be coming onto the grid. With hydro generation limited the grid will see more use of the GHG emitting CCGTs (in MW and in MWh) and of exports (as in this snapshot) to maximize the use of the wind generation investment and minimize wind curtailment. The Ontario grid will depend even more on an export market and on reliable wind forecasting.
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Dash for Gas could threaten Ontario’s Darlington B

March 1, 2013

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer – 2013 February

The present situation in Ontario, and indeed in all of north America, is reminiscent of that in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. Cheap natural gas discovered in the North Sea together with the fortuitous development of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) generating stations effectively put a stop to any future nuclear build. The “Dash for Gas” had started. The last nuclear plant to be built in the UK was Sizewell B, a Westinghouse design, that started up in 1995 but planned follow-on units were cancelled because of the availability of low cost gas. However in North America, well at least in the USA, nuclear has not been stopped, just slowed.

Today the situation in the UK is much different. North Sea reserves of natgas are down and gas prices are very much up.  In 2010 the UK grid was made up of 34,000 MW of gas (Ontario 10,000 MW), 29,000 MW of coal (Ontario 3,300 MW), 11,000 MW of nuclear (Ontario 13,000 MW), 4,200 MW of hydro (Ontario 8,000 MW) and 4,200 nameplate MW of wind (Ontario 1,500 MW).  Imported gas will account for 75 percent of all gas consumed in UK by 2015, it was 50 percent in 2009. The government has set a limit on carbon emissions from fossil plants that ensures that only gas-fired units get built in the future, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) becomes practical for coal-fired plants – unlikely. Read the rest of this entry »


Why wind power does not work in Ontario – and the solution

August 1, 2012

Why wind power does not work in Ontario – and the solution

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng. – retired nuclear industry engineer

This article, with minor differences, was published as an opinion piece in the Canadian Nuclear Society’s BULLETIN journal, 2012 June edition.

I haven’t noticed the price of Ontario’s electricity dropping despite an over supply of generation and a ten year low in north American natural gas prices. This is mainly because of the Ontario government’s misguided policy of promoting more and more wind generation on the grid under the protection of the Green Energy Act. Large amounts of intermittent wind skew the market leading to take-or-pay contracts (necessary to ensure capacity is built and always available when wind is absent) with the gas-fired generators and the need to export electricity at subsidized give away prices. No one would build merchant gas-fired generators in Ontario since they would be operating at low capacity factors and would price themselves out of the market.

Nuclear electricity provides around 60 percent of Ontario demand and hydro about 20 percent leaving 20 percent or so for the rest, that is, mostly inflexible natural gas and some unreliable wind under Ontario government authority contracts, with flexible coal coming in at times of peak demand.  Without wind on the grid gas would have a better chance of supplying all the intermediate and peaking load and see an increasing amount of steady operating hours with lower generation costs. More and more wind being added to the grid in these times of continuing low demand result in very low market prices, even negative prices during the frequent periods of surplus baseload generation (SBG) that is indicative of a poorly designed grid.  Since wind is completely unnecessary in the first place it makes little sense to provide expensive energy storage, even if this were technically and environmentally achievable. Read the rest of this entry »


Natural gas prices go lower and Ontario electricity prices go higher – 2012 April

April 23, 2012
I haven’t noticed the price of Ontario’s electricity dropping over the past few years despite the lowest ever natural gas prices. Blame the Ontario government’s misguided policy of promoting more and more wind generation on the grid under the protection of the Green Energy Act. Unreliable wind skews the market leading to high take-or-pay payments instead of low market prices going to the gas-fired generators and the need to export electricity at subsidized give away prices. No one would build merchant gas-fired generators in Ontario since they would be operating at low capacity factors and would price themselves out of the market. Nuclear electricity provides around 60 percent of Ontario demand and hydro about 20 percent leaving 20 percent or so for the rest, that is, natural gas and unreliable wind under Ontario Power Authority contracts, with coal coming in at peak loads. Without wind on the grid gas would have a better chance of supplying all the intermediate and peaking load and see more and steady operating hours giving lower generation prices. Of course the present low Ontario demand leading to frequent periods of surplus baseload generation, that are exacerbated by wind, also contributes to the mess the electricity market is in.
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