It’s no surprise that the Society of Energy Professionals, a shareholder of nuclear operator Bruce Power, wants the government to order several new nuclear reactors for Ontario.
More curious is the society’s belief, expressed in a series of recommendations last week, that the provincial government should make wind-energy development a part of Ontario Power Generation’s mandate as a publicly owned corporation. The society has been arguing this case ever since the McGuinty government took wind and other renewables out of OPG’s mandate two years ago.
Under its revised mandate, “OPG will not pursue investment in non-hydroelectric renewable generation projects unless specifically directed to do so by the shareholder.” The government, representing the public, is the shareholder.
Banning OPG from developing wind makes no sense, says Andrew Muller, president of the society, which represents more than 7,000 engineers and scientists working in Ontario’s energy sector. “They have a lot of land, a lot of property to do this on, and let’s face it, OPG was the first one to build commercially viable windmills in Ontario,” he said last week.
OPG does have several small wind turbines installed in a variety of locations, including Nanticoke and Pickering. The crown corporation is also a partner in the five-turbine Huron Wind Farm in Kincardine. As Muller pointed out, this was the first commercial wind farm in the province. OPG got involved in these projects before its mandate was snipped back.
The question now is whether wind development in Ontario would benefit or suffer by letting OPG back in the game. An argument can be made, at least from a public policy perspective, that there would be a net benefit.
This, according to private wind developers such as John Kourtoff, would come with the caveat that OPG not get preferential treatment.
“The bottom line is Ontario needs power, and the public wants renewable power. If the private sector doesn’t do it on comparable terms and conditions, then let OPG to it, because you can’t let these opportunities just sit there,” says Kourtoff, chief executive of Trillium Power Energy Corp., which hopes to build a massive wind farm offshore in Lake Ontario.
One geographic area where OPG’s participation might serve Ontario well is in the north, where the company is already developing hydroelectric projects, in consultation with aboriginal groups, and where wind resources are rich. Two examples are the Chute Generating Station in Tamiskaming and projects on the lower and upper Mattagami River.
The Ontario Power Authority wants to expand hydroelectric and wind generation as part of its 20-year system plan. It should be a co-ordinated effort.
“Wind and hydro are natural allies,” says Roger Short, a co-founder of Chinodin Wind Power, which originally conceived and is a partner in the Melancthon Wind project 90 minutes north of Toronto.
The two resources are allies because when the wind slows down or stops blowing altogether, a hydroelectric dam can easily pick up the slack, a job that is often done by coal and natural gas plants.
When the wind is blowing, it also means hydro facilities can store water so the energy can be dispatched during peak times. This interplay between wind and hydro allows us to use the energy from intermittent renewable resources when we need them.
Wind and run-of-river hydro are also complementary because, as a rule, there’s more wind in the winter when hydro capacity is lower and less wind in the summer when hydro increases. By developing wind and hydroelectric resources in tandem and on a large scale, it could get Ontario to the point where it can export surplus renewable energy ““ as opposed to nuclear power ““ to the U.S., says Short.
But doing so on such a large scale may require that OPG join the activity. “OPG, in my view, would be one of several who could be a natural fit for this,” says Short. “They have might and experience … (and) could pull it off.”
He adds one warning: “Just don’t let them run wild out there. You don’t want them to pickle the low-hanging fruit and squeeze out everybody else.”
That possibility ““ an OPG out of control ““ has many firmly and understandably opposed to the idea. After all, if wind power up north near a hydroelectric site can be developed at a reasonable price, then the private sector is likely to step up. If it’s not reasonable, it won’t ““ and OPG probably shouldn’t either.
“What we need is a grid build-out strategy from Hydro One that extends the grid to parts of the province with good wind resources,” said one industry source. “Once they build out the grid, private money can build the production better than OPG.”
In fact, many argue that OPG’s current hydroelectric portfolio, particularly in the north, should be auctioned off so that new private owners can risk their own capital by complementing them with wind. Or, some say, OPG should be broken up into smaller pieces and have all or some of its parts privatized.
“That would go a long way to fixing the Ontario crisis of supply, and enabling the market to determine the true value of electricity in the province,” said the source.
Perhaps it’s time again to debate these issues.
By Tyler Hamilton
14 May 2007
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