Sunday, 6 November 2011

Response to "McGuinty's green energy deception"

The Owen Sound Sun Times (OSST) recently published an editorial by Janice Middleton entitled “McGuinty’s green energy deception”.  Ms Middleton claims to be a journalist and former Globe and Mail reporter.  In my opinion, this editorial explains why she’s a former reporter.  It’s one thing to post a point of view.  It’s another to base one’s opinion on untruths.  Either this author is ignorant of the facts or she has deliberately mislead her readers.

Even Wind Concerns Ontario, which published her piece in their online blog were astonished at some of her outrageous claims. 

Let’s evaluate the editorial falsehood by falsehood.  Be warned, there are plenty of them so this may take some time for you to read.

“McGuinty's Green Energy Act, the centerpiece of the Liberal's re-election campaign, is anything but. The 2009 bill, pushed through the Ontario legislature in just two and-a-half months without public consultation, is costly, unproven and undemocratic. The legislation which stripped municipalities of their control over renewable energy projects, facilitates 20-year contracts with foreign energy companies to proceed with installing up to 13,500 industrial wind turbines, each about 49 stories high with blades the length of eight school buses -- years before they'll actually be energy producers for the province”.

The Green Energy Act (GEA) was passed after extensive public consultation by a multi-party standing committee.  In fact, much of the motivation for the GEA was from municipalities who wanted a common set of standards across the province.  The major companies in the wind sector, representing 80% of current capacity, are Transalta, Brookfield, Suncor, Enbridge, Kruger and Epcor – hardly foreign companies.  Ms Middleton claims that 13,500 turbines are looming on the horizon.  That would imply over 20,000 MW of wind capacity.  However, in a directive by Energy Minister Brad Duguid to Colin Anderson (OPA) dated Feb 17 2011, the output  target (in MW) for wind, solar and bio-energy by 2018 is 10,700 MW combined, making Ms. Middleton wrong, probably by a factor of three.

“If you haven't seen them take a drive south to Lake Erie along historic Highway 3 between Blenheim and Leamington. On a windy day, "The sound is like a freight train," says Dave Benson, Heritage Coordinator for the Municipality of Chatham and Kent. "A modest house is worth 30 per cent less and a million-dollar property is unsaleable." Are they ugly? You bet. Texan billionaire T. Boone Pickins, a heavy investor in wind power, has said he won't put any turbines on his 68,000 acres. On a gorgeous fall day the rolling hills of golden fields east of Lake Huron rival Tuscany. Imagine turbines over Tuscany”.

Some people may not like the look of turbines but most – over 80% of the population are in support of wind in general and even 70% are in support when asked if they would support wind in their community (Sources: Canadian Nuclear Association, Ipsos Reid).  Typical sound levels from a turbine are 40 dBa, equivalent to a modern refrigerator’s emitted sound.  On top of extensive independent studies, farm prices have recently risen in Chatham-Kent, an area of extensive wind development (Source Re-Max).  As for turbines in Tuscany, just go to Scansano and take a look.

“Yet, McGuinty talks proudly in television election ads of 900 turbines installed so far. However, with the exception of one Lake Ontario project, the power's not going anywhere. Wind farms along Lakes Huron and Erie are not, as yet, on the grid. While this is talked about locally, few Ontarians are aware that the turbines are mainly just gigantic lawn ornaments. Repeated calls and e-mails to Liberal MPP Carol Mitchell (Huron-Bruce) were not returned.

Statistics provided by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) indicate that of 11,571 applications current for wind turbines, 3,165 contracts have been signed, 2,266 are under development and just one -- Wolf Island with 86 turbines -- is in commercial operation. It could be many years and as much as $40 billion of taxpayers dollars being spent to upgrade the nuclear power plants before most of the turbines can be plugged into the power grid”.

Now this is a jaw-dropper.  The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) publishes an hourly report of every generator in Ontario.  If you take a look at a sample day and scroll down to the wind section, you’ll see sixteen active wind farms.  Only one, Point aux Roches, hasn’t been commissioned yet.  Ms. Middleton is either purposefully telling untruths or doesn’t have the research skills of a gradeschool student with access to the internet.  Many other projects are indeed in development and some of them are relying on the new line from the Bruce nuclear complex to be completed in 2012.

"It's all a series of lies," says John Laforet, president of Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO). Wind and solar energy is neither clean nor efficient, he says. "What is really disturbing is that it appears this Liberal government is operating in a culture of willful blindness at the most senior level including the Ministers of Environment, Health and inside the Premier's office."

WCO is a coalition of 53 grass-roots citizens groups across 38 Ontario counties and districts, which presides over regular meetings in various communities across the province. WCO has launched a website to release and feature what it calls "revealing documents through Ontario's fall election campaign to educate voters on the Ontario Liberals' dishonesty on the impacts of industrial wind turbines." At WCO information sessions, charts are displayed showing that since each turbine is backed up by a gas generator for when the winds don't blow, which is up to 40% of the time, there is really little or no reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Armed with information about how wind turbines kill wildlife, make people sick, destroy property values and don't cut greenhouses gases, WCO speakers talk up the unpleasant side effects of renewable energy projects. The nasty part of wind power includes how the Wolf Island turbines on the Bay of Quinte on the north shore of Lake Ontario west of Kingston kill scores of bats and birds. And, in Prince Edward County, turbine installers have asked for permission from the Ministry of the Environment enabling them to kill the rare Blanding's Turtle if necessary. In the pristine wilderness of Lake Superior north of Thunder Bay, several thousand trees are to be clear-cut to make way for wind turbines.

Ms. Middleton allocates much of her editorial to coverage of the views of Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) and portrays them as merely trying to educate the public.  For contrast, read the article by Martin Cohn in the Toronto Star. Where he describes their type as “turbine truthers”:

“…..a hardy band of mostly rural protesters and transplanted urbanites who shadow McGuinty across the province, berating him for pressing ahead with wind turbines. No credible studies show evidence of harm, but these righteous turbine truthers have forsworn the science, swear by their headaches, and harangue anyone who questions their questioning.”

The notion that gas turbine backup negates carbon dioxide displacement has been disproven over and over.  You just have to look at the IESO generator reports on a windy day and notice that coal is shut out of the system and gas is only used in co-generation applications where they are part of generating steam for heating and industrial process purposes.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has published estimates that wind eliminates 96% of equivalent fossil fuel generation (Source: IEEE Power and Energy, Milligan, 2009 Nov/Dec).

“At a project in Ripley, several residents who signed contracts with Enercor to install wind turbines on their land found they couldn't live with the swoosh noises of the rotating turbine blades, signed buyouts (with gag orders attached so they can't reveal details of the agreements) and fled to new homes. A former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Robert McMurtry, says he has identified 135 cases of illness related directly to the industrial wind turbines and is calling for a study of the health impacts of wind turbines”.

The recent Environmental Review Tribunal review of a project in Chatham Kent found that noise from wind turbines that meet Ontario’s regulations does not cause serious health problems.  Research shows that some people find turbines annoying. This can be stressful but this is not a health problem caused by turbines but by individuals’ reaction to turbines.
As a practical example that living near turbines doesn’t necessarily cause health or other problems, there appears to be little or no complaint from over 1000 landowners and their families who host turbines on their land.  They sleep very well at night.

“Is a renewable energy project that requires bigger nuclear generators really green? Tim Butters, spokesman for the Ontario Power Authority, says wind and solar energy can't reach its potential without revamping and expanding the province's nuclear generating stations, which now provide 56% of Ontario's energy needs. "The modernization of Ontario's nuclear fleet is an important element of the province's long-term plan. To achieve this, the province's electricity system plan has identified that the modernization of the fleet will entail the refurbishment of 10,000 MW of existing nuclear capacity at the Bruce nuclear generating station and the Darlington nuclear generating stations as well as the procurement of two new nuclear generating units at the
Darlington site (on Lake Ontario)."

Unless there’s another quote out there, I fail to see how Mr. Butter’s statement demonstrates a belief that nuclear modernization is a requirement for expansion of renewable energy.  Germany is ditching it’s nuclear program in favour of renewable energy.  A number of organizations in Canada have thought through how to do it in Ontario.  For example, see the Pembina Institute’s website.

“Has McGuinty put the cart before the horse? Hydro One last month asked the Ontario Energy Board for a six month exemption from meeting deadlines for assessing and connecting small renewable energy projects. Complaints poured in after more than 12,000 solar panel operators, whose projects were approved, are waiting to be connected to the grid. So far, just under a third of 18,000 solar panels are providing power, says Hydro One.

In February this year the solar operators got letters from Hydro One advising them that they wouldn't be connected to the power grid for lack of capacity. Their expectations of a 12% return on their investment, receiving 20 years of payments for the green power from their solar panels is on hold. In late August, Energy Minister Brad Duguid offered to allow about 1,500 rural Ontario families who have ground or roof mounted solar panels to relocate the units at their own expense to another place that might be able to provide grid attachment.
"A crazy-sounding idea,"' said one retired farmer who bet on green energy.

The Liberals have come under fire by the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party for making a multi-billion-dollar deal with South Korea's Samsung Group. The government did not seek competitive tenders before awarding a contract that guarantees taxpayer-subsidized revenue for 20 years for 2,500 megawatts of wind and solar energy.

Despite the fact that Ontario's energy distribution system is years from being able to handle the extra
megawatts, under the Liberal plan, wind and solar proponents, the manufacturers, installers, and contract holders maintain turbines and panels are going in anyway.

For example, in Goderich, Capital Power has announced it signed a power purchase agreement with the OPA to install 150 more wind turbines to the current 22 within Ashfield Colborne Wawanash Township. The project is expected to cost nearly $1 million--with no date of grid access established”.

It’s pretty clear that the sign-up for renewable energy, specifically solar energy, outstripped OPA and Hydro-One’s ability to evaluate and approve projects.  However, it’s not clear why so much solar capacity was built when investors didn’t have a connection agreement with Hydro One.  Probably it was a mix of back-stepping by Hydro One and naïve over-exuberance by small investors. 

What is missed by critics, though, is that while there were a large number of solar applications, the actual collective power rating was still modest.  In contrast,  the OPA has approximately 3400 MW of wind under contract, half in commercial operation and the other half in development with transmission access.  A further 6000 MW of projects are on the drawing board, many of which will be enabled by the Bruce to Milton transmission line reinforcement project in 2013.

However, why would anyone build projects and then sit by with a bunch of idle hardware?  Financiers won’t release funds until they see a connection agreement and date.  Even if they did, it wouldn’t cost the consumer a cent.  The consumer only pays if and when the power flows into the system.  All financial risk is borne by the developer. and all the funding is from the private sector, not the taxpayer.

“Ontario has branded itself as a world leader in renewable energy offering high prices for solar and wind power. The Liberal's Feed-in Tariffs incentive program guarantees energy producers above-market prices for their power for 20 years. The rates for solar range between 44.3 cents and 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Wind energy producers are offered 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. The McGuinty offer says it has attracted $20 billion in investment commitments and a promise of 20,000 jobs. So far, media reports indicate a fraction of investment and jobs have been realized. McGuinty's office and the local members of provincial parliament haven't responded to e-mails asking for details”.

Critics claim that Ontario is offering high prices for solar and wind.  In truth, the prices are similar or lower that other jurisdictions.  Wind’s cost is already on par with gas and handily beats nuclear when compared on the same basis.  Solar is expected to match the prices for gas peaking plants in the next five years or so.  In saying that producers are guaranteed above-market prices, Ms Middleton assumes that conventional prices don’t rise and is ignorant of the fact that the renewables contracts have no escalation clauses.  An analysis by John Harrison, a retired physics professor associated with WCO actually claims that the financial returns by developers are unattractive.  However, and to repeat an earlier point, the consumer only pays for what is produced and the developer takes all the production risk.

“All told, says Laforet, about 200,000 people in the rural counties along Canada's Great Lakes shores are being tossed under the bus for the so-called greater good of the future power needs of the province's 10 million population. "And there's no word of a health study”

There’s Ms. Middleton’s favourite source again.  What Mr. Laforet fails to mention is that the rural communities benefit from royalties, municipal tax and amenity payments along with temporary and full-time local jobs.  He also fails to mention that the green energy is being predominantly consumed in those rural communities.  As for “no word of a health study”, he must be unaware of the work being done by the University of Waterloo, specifically by Dr. McColl and Dr. Bigelow from the Faculty of Applied Health Studies:

We’ve assembled a multidisciplinary team in order to carry out one of the first in-depth
clinical and epidemiological assessments on the human health effects of both audible and low
frequency sound from wind turbines,” explains Bigelow. “By including nursing professionals
and other specialized health expertise on the team, we’re hoping to use clinical and biological
markers of stress to examine the association of exposure to wind turbine noise with sleep
disturbances, fatigue, headache, depression, and other psychophysiological problems.”

Now, of course, there will debates about methods and interpretation of results but it can’t be said that there’s no word of a health study.

The PCs promise they'll cancel the Samsung deal if they win the election on Oct. 6. They will also scrap 1,800 contracts Ontario has signed with developers, causing investors to put wind-solar plans on hold. The NDP has said, if elected, the party will re-examine the Green Energy Act and will alter legislation to place renewable energy projects under public control.

Unfortunately, I can’t disagree with this statement.

Neither Ms Middleton nor the WCO has put forward any fully explained and costed suggestions on how they would come to grips with Ontario’s energy mix, costs and pro’s and con’s of their solutions.

It seems they try to stymie wind power at every turn while ignoring such concerns as :

1. Coal kills about 370 Ontarians a year and impairs several hundred thousand from pollution (Source: OMA)
2. Municipalities are strapped for cash so taxes will have to go up or services reduced unless new sources of tax revenue can be found.
3. No nuclear project in Ontario has ever come in on time and budget, yet it is assumed that a couple of new units in Darlington will do just that. Germany has just decided to exit their entire nuclear business by 2020 for risk, safety and other reasons and aggressively increase their fleet of renewable energy sources.

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