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Auditor huffs over wind power rush

The fervour over whether wind power is the right way to boost the Ontario’s generation capacity grows as more projects get slated for development.

It’s a complicated issue, not isolated to this province or country.

But Ontario’s auditor general, Jim McCarter, dressed down the McGuinty government over the rush to wind power in his 2011 annual report.

Although the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King, said there’s no scientific evidence that directly links wind turbine noise and adverse health effects, the AG acknowledged more research is needed.

In recommending the ministry provide the public with the results of “objective research” on the potential health effects of wind power, McCarter noted King’s report was questioned for being merely a literature review that presented no original research and did not reflect the situation in Ontario.

McCarter also questioned the sustainability and affordability of the technology.

“The power-generating capacity of current wind and solar technology is much lower than other energy sources,” he wrote. “Wind generators operate at 28% capacity factor but have only 11% availability at peak demand due to lower wind output in the summer.”

According to the Independent Electricity System Operator, Ontario can generate more than 1,500 megawatts of wind power, though on May 22 between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., the system was producing 338 MW – the same as the Thunder Bay coal-fired power plant.

Between 12 p.m. and

1 p.m., the system was only generating 167 MW of power, just enough to supply the greater Sudbury area – population160,000.

The numbers point to the inherently intermittent and unreliable nature of wind power.

“Renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar, cost much more than conventional energy sources,” McCarter noted. “Accordingly, electricity bills are projected to rise even further as more renewable energy projects start commercial operations in the next few years.”

3.6% hikes on way

Add to that the Harmonized Sales Tax is taking an extra slice of hydro bills, and ratepayers will also see them rise by about 3.6% for each of the next five years.

Many critics, including Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson, question whether we need wind power at all considering the province is currently producing more electricity than it can consume.

In April, according to the energy ministry, the province netted more than $20 million by exporting electricity to other provinces and states, bringing total net export revenues to more than $75 million in 2012. The average wholesale price for energy sold from Ontario’s grid is about $0.0179/kWh in May. While wind power is being purchased by the province for $0.135/kWh, some excess is being shed for a fraction of the cost – a nearly 87% discount.

But the province’s ongoing investment in renewable energy is not intended to bolster its export revenue, Energy Minister Chris Bentley said.

“In 2002 and 2003 it cost us almost $1 billion to import (electricity) … We’re not building renewable energy for the export business that happens from time to time when we produce more than we can use, so that’s not a goal of it,” he said.

Instead, the minister hopes the clean tech sector, already building parts for solar and wind energy installations, will help the province’s economy by exporting its technologies.

In its own two-year review of the Feed-in Tariff program, the province suggests streamlining the approvals process while also encouraging improved community and municipal engagement.

Calling for FIT program prices for wind and solar technologies to be reduced, the report points to the expensive nature of the technology, which should be brought back down to earth.

“Ontario has successfully created a domestic renewable energy sector of sufficient size to drive economies of scale and lower prices,” it says. “In addition to domestic developments, the evolution of the global market has contributed to substantial capital and operating cost reductions.”