Strong winds and moderate, late summer temperatures in Ontario — with a boost from Hurricane Irene — have helped push Ontario electricity prices down into record-breaking negative territory.
That meant Ontario ratepayers paid electricity customers in Quebec and neighbouring U.S. states to absorb this province’s surplus power.
In fact, the Ontario system took a loss of $6.6 million on Sunday as it sought to dump the surplus.
The surplus came at the worst possible time — just as big customers in New York and Quebec, who sometimes soak up Ontario surpluses, were cutting back consumption under the onslaught of Hurricane Irene.
The price of power in Ontario dipped below zero for nine hours on Sunday, mostly in the early morning hours. It fell back into negative territory again late Sunday night and stayed there for three hours Monday morning.
At one point, it dipped as low as minus 22.6 cents a kilowatt hour. For the day as a whole, the price averaged minus 17.5 cents a kilowatt hour, breaking the previous record of minus 16.7 cents, set in January.
Though export customers, and a handful of large industrial customers inside the province, were actually paid to use Ontario power, householders weren’t so lucky. They still had to pay either the regulated consumer price of power or whatever price they have agreed to under contract if they buy their power from a retailer.
Losses incurred by selling power below cost are ultimately recouped from Ontario customers through an extra fee.
This week is not the first time Ontario has paid export customers to take its power. Prices also dipped into negative territory at New Year, as strong winds blew across the province while many businesses were closed for the holidays. And there have been other occasions.
Energy Minister Brad Duguid said told the Star that having surplus power is not such a bad thing.
“We need the surplus power, on a hot summer liker this summer, to be able to keep those air conditioners going and keep people comfortable,” said Duguid.
He contrasted this year with the hot summer of 2002, when Ontario was short of power and had to import electricity regularly to keep the lights on.
Ontario ran a deficit of $46 million importing power in July 2002, Duguid said, and there was fear of power shortages.
“If you look at it since 2006, Ontario ratepayers have received a $1.6 billion surplus in the power we’ve exported since that time,” he said.
Opponents of wind power say they’ll use this week’s negative prices to make wind power an issue in the Oct. 6 Ontario election.
Wind Concerns Ontario, an anti-wind group, is planning a demonstration Wednesday in Stratford at the election headquarters of provincial Environment Minister John Wilkinson. And more events will roll out through the campaign, said the group’s Beth Harrington.
Other Liberal candidates can also expect heat, she said.
“We’re targeting the Green Energy Act, and whoever’s in charge of the Green Energy Act is the one that’s going to receive the brunt of the problem,” she said. “It is a Liberal policy.”
Wind Concerns says wind energy makes no economic sense, kills birds and bats, and causes illness in those living near big turbines.
But Duguid says he’s happy to fight an election on the issue of renewable power, because it’s needed to replace coal-fired generators that pollute the air and cause serious lung disease.
“It’s a distinguishing issue for the Ontario Liberal party and its premier, who have stood up and taken the decisions needed to be taken to get out of dirty coal,” he said. “You can’t do it without wind and solar being part of the energy mix.”
The weekend’s surplus power led to production cutbacks at some nuclear plants, which normally run 24 hours a day.
The website of the Independent Electricity System Operator showed that production at several reactors operated by Bruce Power was scaled back on Sunday, and one unit was shut down Monday.