While the mention of energy sparks visions of the Alberta oil fields and massive hydro projects at Niagara Falls and James Bay, a new energy powerhouse is emerging closer to home.
Ramped-up production at the Bruce nuclear power facility and the increasing presence of wind energy are putting Southwestern Ontario in the spotlight as a provider of electricity.
And with growth come the inevitable controversies, including those concerning Hydro One’s plans to build a new $650- million, double-circuit 500-kilovolt transmission line from the Bruce nuclear power generating facility to the Milton switching station.
Opponents of the new line claim proven capacitor technologies are available that could boost the present line to a point where it could handle all the output the Bruce facility has to offer, including two closed 750-megawatt generating units that will be refurbished and reopened to bring the total number of working units at Bruce to eight, with an output of more than 6,000 MW.
While Hydro One concedes that this could well be true, it also points out that ambitious wind energy projects are planned for what it calls the “Bruce Area,” and the new line would be necessary to carry the electricity generated from this source.
“Adding this (capacitor) technology would take care of a small percentage of the additional power that’s needed when Bruce and the wind power comes on line in (2009),” says Hydro One spokesperson Danielle Gauvin, “but it would only take care of a small percentage of the additional need.”
Gary Schneider, the transmission line’s project manager, concurs.
“Today 99.9 per cent of (the electricity) is the Bruce nuclear power facility. The generation coming out of it basically matches the present transmission capability. That’s about 5,000 megawatts.
“In the future, there are plans for an increase of over 50 per cent of the generation resources in the area.”
The Bruce Area stretches to the south end of Georgian Bay, south to around Goderich and southeast to Orangeville.
According to Mr. Schneider, the Ontario government has contracted Bruce to deliver an additional 1,500 megawatts of electricity when the two closed units come back online in 2009 and the plant gets up to full strength by 2012.
As well, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is looking to the wind energy sector to provide 700 megawatts. This includes 67.5 megawatts from the Melancthon I wind farm in Amaranth and another 132 from the Melancthon II farm, which is scheduled to commence operation in the final quarter of this year.
(The Melancthon output now reaches the grid via an older 230-kilovolt line.)
On top of that, the OPA has conducted wind studies in the area and concluded that there is a potential to generate another 1,000 megawatts of wind power.
“The OPA looked through a number of transmission options,” says Mr. Schneider. The new-lines option “was the only one that could meet the overall need.”
There is a substantial difference between the lofty expectations of wind power, however, and the actual amount of electricity it generates now. The bulk of the wind-generating sector in the area is still in the planning phase.
Thus, the onus is still on nuclear and critics of the transmission line point to the need for such technologies as FACTS (Flexible Alternate Current Transmission System) or series capacitors.
FACTS, for example, is a capacitor-based technology that utilizes communications enabled sensors, power-converters and actuator networks to produce a controllable and asset-efficient power grid. Power flow control on existing lines is achieved using many modules of a distributed static series capacitor (DSSC) device that can be clamped on to existing power lines.
It is almost a given that up to nine per cent of electricity generated at the plant is lost during transmission. The addition of the new technology has been proven to dramatically decrease such losses to the point of almost eliminating them.
Taking into account that between 24,000 and 27,000 megawatts of electricity is being consumed in Ontario during peak periods, losses will be between 2,160 and 2,430.
Critics say that by cutting these losses through the new technology, it is conceivable that Bruce could deliver its share of electricity without having to utilize a second line.
Nevertheless, with the Liberal government’s commitment to phase out coal-fired power plants, there looms a need for new sources of electricity.
As well, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) may become the site of gasfired plants that generate close to 2,600 megawatts.
Modern gas-fired power plants emit fewer pollutants than coal-fired power plants, are more efficient, and are quick to build and have lower capi- tal costs.
On the downside, the price of natural gas has been reaching record highs, which implies high electricity prices in the short to medium term, especially if gas-fired power plants are relied upon to meet more than peak demands. To the extent that they put excessive pressure on the price of electricity, high gas prices could jeopardize the construction of additional gas-fired generating plants.
“Regardless of what happens with gas prices, the government has a policy that they want to phase out the coal-fired plants, which represent a significant amount of power supply in the province,” says Mr. Sinclair. “It has to be replaced with something.”
So, while wind power may still be in its infancy in Ontario, it has made great strides in other parts of the world and could well provide an answer to the energy dilemma – if it has a reliable source of transportation to get to where it’s needed.
By Dan Pelton
7 February 2008
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