The wind industry’s spin
Credit: Parker Gallant, Energy Probe, ep.probeinternational.org 2 August 2011 ~~
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In Greek Mythology Aeolus was the “King of Wind” but in Canadian Mythology the King of Wind is CanWEA; a not-for-profit association of 420 members including public and private companies, legal firms, manufacturers, etc. and others who feed off of the largess of taxpayers and ratepayers to ensure they retain their mandated (Ontario’s Green Energy Act) place on the energy podium.
The claims made on CanWEA’s website are wide ranging and while Aeolus was associated with creating storms; CanWEA’s claims are principally associated with saving the world from catastrophic global warming. Let’s look at some of those claims:
The Balanced Diet
One of the claims made is; “Wind energy is part of a “balanced energy diet” and is a perfect complement to other conventional forms of electricity generation. One example is wind and hydroelectric. Over short time periods (days and weeks), hydro can be used to compensate for variations in wind power production. Over long time periods (years and decades), wind can be used to compensate for fluctuations in reservoir levels, an effect that will be increasingly felt through climate change.”
On the latter claim wind-energy may have some use in Quebec or BC for that purpose, but in Ontario we have limited reservoir capacity (140 MW) unless we wish to flood vast regions of the province. In point of fact Ontario is often forced to export power to Quebec during the Spring at a loss.
On the former point in the above extract from CanWEA’s website the “perfect complement” is not perfect. Hydro’s peak production comes in the Spring season when the freshet can produce an abundance (almost to full capacity) of cheap clean hydro power which coincides with peak wind production that frequently reaches similar levels. Unfortunately Spring, and Fall are the lowest demand periods so the “complement” is a misnomer and wind power takes precedent over hydro power meaning we must often spill cheap, clean hydro to give wind-energy their first to the grid rights. The “complement” thereby becomes a burden that the ratepayers endure through higher electricity bills.
Wind-energy Variability Demand
This same webpage from CanWEA states “The variability of wind matches the variability of demand. Generally wind is strongest in cold-weather months when our demand for electricity is highest.”
Ontario’s peak demand for the past several decades occurs in the hot summer months not in the cold-weather months and the variability of wind doesn’t match this cycle. Wind-energy is highest in the shoulder months of our Spring & Fall and at night when demand is at it’s lowest. Wind production in the summer (on average) is less than 17% of it’s capacity and often falls to less then 5% and that is when our demand reaches it’s annual peak.
The next CanWEA webpage claims “Wind Power is Reliable.” and goes on to state; “The wind turbines that you see today are the result of decades of research and development. Thanks to these efforts, modern turbines are highly efficient and a typical unit alone can generate enough electricity to power over 500 homes. The science of wind turbine placement has advanced a great deal, too – nowadays, the output of a wind farm can be predicted accurately well before a shovel hits the ground.”
To claim that a typical unit can generate enough electricity to power over 500 homes would require that unit to operate at a 33 % capacity level based on the standard household usage (800 kWh per month) claimed in submissions to the Ontario Energy Board by parties seeking rate increases. My view on the CanWEA statement is that it should state; “a typical unit can generate enough electricity to power 1500 homes for 33 % of the time.” This would ensure that we understand that some other power source would be required for the other 77 % of the time when that unit was producing nothing! The other misleading fact about this statement is that industrial wind turbines, on average, only produce power for approximately 27 % of the time and in the UK a recent report http://www.jmt.org/assets/pdf/wind-report.pdf indicated an average production level of only 21 % was achieved in 2010. The additional problem as highlighted in a recent Aegent study is that “excess output would exacerbate or create a number of undesirable outcomes, including:
- surplus base load generation
- dispatched-off situations
- subsidized exports”
Wind-energy & Extreme Weather
This same webpage further claims: “As long as there is wind, there will be wind power.
With good placement, a modern wind turbine will typically produce electricity 70 percent of the time. Enhanced technology and design improvements have also played a part in increasing the reliability of wind power allowing turbines to generate electricity in all but the most extreme weather conditions.”
The foregoing reference to “extreme weather” is exactly what happened in the UK late last year as those extreme conditions took hold and the industrial wind turbines froze and actually were consuming power rather then producing it as the Institute of Energy Research noted. A similar event occurred in New Brunswick as reported here.
So just when we need the power, wind fails to provide it. In those situations we require 100% back-up power. So if CanWEA achieve their goal of 20 % of Canada’s electricity capacity by 2025 we will need 20% of other more reliable and dispatchable power generation to ensure we avoid blackouts.
Wind-energy is always Producing somewhere
This same CanWEA page goes on to ask the question: “But what happens when the wind isn’t blowing? Here it is important to remember that the wind never stops blowing everywhere at once. Experience from around the world has shown that a large number of wind turbines spread over a wide geographic area will actually produce a consistent amount of power. And the use of advanced wind and weather forecasting tools helps to make wind energy more predictable and more reliable than ever before.”
That claim to reliability is no doubt something that the UK and New Brunswick grid operators would dispute. The assertion that a geographic spread of wind turbines “produce a consistent amount of power” has been disputed by many and in Ontario’s case an Energy Probe study going back to 2006 indicated that assertion was not backed up with facts. The study went on to state that wide geographic disbursement of wind turbines would cause considerable transmission and grid related problems and add to costs.
The next CanWEA webpage I wish to explore is this one: where they carry this message; “The modern wind turbine was built to adapt to all kinds of wind and weather conditions. Turbines can even be installed on water; they don’t need to be just on land.”
As noted above the first part of this claim is a stretch based on what happened in UK and New Brunswick and no doubt other areas of the world.
Wind-energy as a Cuisinart
The next part of this page is presumably meant to educate us and has this brief description; “Wind turbines generally consist of large blades mounted on tall towers attached to a horizontal shaft. As the wind blows, these blades cause the shaft to turn. The shaft is attached to a generator located inside the head, or “nacelle” of the turbine, which generates electricity. Cables carry this electrical current to transmission lines that then carry it to homes and businesses. Modern turbines rotate quite slowly, at an average speed of between 18 to 20 revolutions per minute.”
What this fails to tell us is that “revolutions per minute” do not tell us that the tips of the blades are travelling at a speed of as much as 200 kilometres and hour and they are very effective at chopping up birds and destroying bats as this webpage highlights for only one of the many industrial wind turbine sites spread throughout the province.
The next piece of this webpage carries this message; “Maintenance issues are also much smaller on a wind farm. At some conventional power plants, the entire plant may have to be shut down for repairs whereas at a wind farm, maintenance takes place one turbine at a time. This has led to availability factors (referring to the percent of time that a turbine is available to capture the wind) of 98% – much higher than conventional forms of energy production.”
I am not sure what CanWEA are trying to accomplish here beyond putting an impressive percentage on the page. Availability means absolutely nothing without wind to turn the blades and it is a fact that the actual production from the turbines is on average only 27%. If an educator was to mark CanWEA he/she would give them an “A+” for attendance but an “F” for their paper. I also find it interesting that when I enquired about the Wolfe Island industrial wind installation and why all of their units were producing absolutely no power over a three day period during a recent hot spell I received the following response; “We’re currently performing annual substation maintenance at the site (a scheduled 3-day outage) to ensure park and grid reliability. We perform this in low-wind seasons; however, we need to schedule months in advance. Hope this helps,”
What caught my eye about this reply was both the fact that they had shut down all of the turbines and also admitted that the summer was one of the “low-wind seasons”. So the claim to be able to provide maintenance “one turbine at a time” is a stretch and the disclosure of “low wind-seasons” by one of their members is an admission that they will be unreliable during the peak demand summer season.
Wind-energy to reduce Global Emissions
This CanWEA webpage had this bon mot; “Canada’s electricity system is at a crossroads. Demand is rising and many power plants are approaching retirement. We need more power, and concerns over climate change, air pollution and acid rain damage mean we have to look at cleaner ways to generate it.”
Well, I have a shock for CanWEA. Demand is not rising. In fact Ontario consumed 144 TWh in 2003 and in 2010 we consumed only 142 TWh. Demand has actually fallen, both as a result of the recession and as a result of the loss of major energy consuming industries. Even before the recession a report by the OFL in 2007 indicated Ontario had lost 150,000 manufacturing jobs in the prior 4 years.
Wind-energy to prevent Climate Change
CanWEA go on to state; “Wind is an obvious part of the solution. Wind is quick to install and produces no air pollution or greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In fact, in light of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that in order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change, we need to get global emissions to peak and start to decline before 2020, wind energy may well be the best solution right now. “In this critical period between now and the end of the next decade, we are really it on the supply side and that is a pretty large responsibility,” says Steve Sawyer, the secretary-general of the Global Wind Energy Council.”
This is at the heart of CanWEA’s principal argument-saving us from global warming because “wind energy” will get global emissions to decline. That premise was recently taken to task by a report from Bentek Energy which concluded that claims made on CO 2 and other noxious reductions by the wind industry are “vastly overstated” and wind energy is not “a cost-effective solution for reducing carbon dioxide if carbon is valued at less than $33 per ton.”
Wind-energy as a replacement for Nuclear power-Globally
This same webpage asks the question: ‘What are our choices? Nuclear power has no emissions, but for the technology just to maintain its current market share, 150-180 new plants will need to be built between now and 2020. The complexities around getting those facilities permitted and constructed make it unlikely.”
So CanWEA have gone global with the above statement unless there are proposal that haven’t yet hit the media about plans to construct these plants in Canada. Are they suggesting that industrial wind turbines could take the place of these 150-180 new plants being constructed around the globe or just the 16 in Ontario that have a rated capacity of about 12,000 MW? Aegent Energy in an April 2011 release estimated that just replacing the nuclear plants in Ontario with industrial wind turbines concluded “Given the operating characteristics of wind generation, 34,000 MW of wind capacity and 10,000 MW of natural gas-fired generation capacity would be required to replace Ontario’s nuclear.” and “That amount of wind capacity would require 14,200 km2 of land – the equivalent of a strip 14 km in width around the shorelines of southwestern Ontario.” The Aegent report estimates that 11,333 turbines would be required so if that assumption is applied to the 150-180 plants mentioned in the CanWEA website that would represent over 120,000 turbines and take up over 150,000 km2. .assuming the “150-180 new plants” are of a like output.
Wind-energy doesn’t have “long planning horizons”
This page goes on to say: “New large hydro is a possibility; it faces long planning horizons and fierce public opposition to the environmental devastation caused by flooding huge tracts of land. Small run-of-river hydro facilities have fewer impacts, but are becoming increasingly difficult to access.”
It is amusing that CanWEA would include the phrase “fierce public opposition” presumably inferring that industrial wind installations don’t face similar opposition. The difference between any new large hydro and industrial wind turbines in Ontario is that the GEA gives the wind developers a carte blanche on the “fierce public opposition” as it gives them an easy ride through the bureaucracy of the various ministries that bless their developments. Fierce public opposition does not carry the same weight with the authorities when wind development is being considered in Ontario!
Wind-energy will be cheaper then Natural Gas
Yet another statement on this page has the following; “Natural gas generating plants are easy to build, flexible to operate and produce fewer emissions than coal, but dwindling supplies and uncertainty over what fuel prices will be next year, much less 20 years down the road, make it a risky choice. Other renewable energy technologies, like solar power and ocean energy, are not yet mature enough to make a substantial contribution over the short term.”
Again the fact that natural gas supplies in North America are not dwindling but increasing seems to have escaped the attention of CanWEA and this has kept the price of natural gas at relatively low levels. For that reason new gas generating plants are the energy of choice in the US and are replacing old coal generation plants because they are more dependable and have ramping capability unlike wind. In 2010 new gas generation plants coming on stream were almost 50% more then wind in rated capacity and even new coal generation plants were higher then wind. If one factors in wind’s low delivery abilities at say; 27% they fall even further behind.
CanWEA’s Advertising Offensive
Criticism on the effects of industrial wind turbines are occurring globally and in Ontario the critics have been both vocal and organized. The criticism’s have universally been about;
- human health,
- economic costs,
- wildlife deaths,
- declining property values, and
As more turbines are erected more critics emerge and those critics now consist of the medical profession, engineers, nature groups, real estate agents, acoustical specialists, economists, and municipal and provincial politicians. On the issue of human health a recent peer reviewed paper by Carl V. Phillips published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society indicates “There is overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate.” which is in sharp contrast to the CanWEA claims.
In an effort to counter all of the negative media, CanWEA has embarked on an aggressive campaign which has included support from ENGOs, formal polls with leading questions, commissioned a noise study, an economic study and ran a series of ads on various radio stations and in regional newspapers.
In the latter case they have used several people to carry their message containing such catchy phrases as; “wind energy is about land stewardship”, “my family supports wind energy”, “the wind facility has also brought in some tourists who are curious to see what it’s all about.”, “wind energy is having an incredibly positive impact on our community.” and “ I would say the wind development has been a real boost for the whole community.”
What the ads fail to say is that hundreds of people have had their health affected in some manner, many have abandoned their homes and farms (5 in one small community alone), several have had their properties acquired and forced to sign gag orders and a number of them live in their basements to try and avoid the effect of the noise and vibrations from the turbines. The print ads also often describe a particular industrial wind development and claim it will produce “enough zero-emission electricity to power” a given number of homes.
When I do the math on the electricity they claim they will produce I found that the ads are saying the turbines will operate at a much higher efficiency level (34/36%) then other industrial wind sites in Ontario.
One of the individuals in the ads; Jutta Splettstoesser whose family farm hosts turbines, has embarked on a organized campaign as a “friend” of wind-energy and is being helped out (administratively) by CanWEA & OSEA. The latter was just awarded a $125,000 “education” grant by the Community Power Fund under the Community Energy Partnerships Program which is funded by the Ontario Power Authority and paid for by the ratepayers of this province. The fact that the Executive Director of the CFP worked with the Executive Director of OSEA in the past is simply a coincidence?
Amazingly enough Jutta’s husband was reputedly caught removing anti-wind signs. Another individual in one of the ads is the Mayor of Chatham-Kent and a former MPP when Bob Rae led the NDP to victory. I can only assume that he is still a supporter of the NDP and therefore favours wind turbines. Back in 2009 he was front and centre when CanWEA presented the Municipality with the 2009 National Group Leadership Award. That many people in his municipality suffer adverse health effects from wind turbines apparently is not his concern.
The claims by CanWEA published on their website and in their advertisements clearly border on unsupportable statements of fact and should be reviewed by the Competition Bureau and Advertising Standards Canada. Perhaps it is time for CanWEA to come clean!
Parker Gallant is a former banker and a director of Energy Probe.
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