TORONTO • Is Ontario generating less electricity from solar panels and wind turbines than it did years ago, despite billions in subsidies to the renewable energy sector? Statistics Canada data suggest so. But the province maintains it gets a growing share of its power from the wind and the sun, and that – just as a growing push for climate policies would seem to call for meticulous monitoring of renewable energy – the numbers coming out of Ottawa are simply wrong.
In the past few years, thanks to generous provincial incentives, homeowners and power companies have blanketed rooftops and farmers’ fields with solar panels, and forested farm fields across the countryside with wind turbines. For example, since 2012 Unconquered Sun Solar Technologies Inc. of Tecumseth, Ont., has installed 300 home rooftop solar systems in the Windsor area alone. Statistics Canada’s numbers, however, suggest that these new sources of electricity have not arrived on the nation’s grid.
The Statistics Canada table “electric power generation, by class of electricity producer,” shows that, in Ontario, “wind power turbine” electricity dropped in 2014 (the last full year for which it has released data) to 3.2-million megawatt-hours, or mWh, from 3.3-million mWh produced in 2013.
Solar has fared no better. Statistics Canada said solar panels produced 260,000 mWh of power across Canada in 2012. That total dropped to 251,000 mWh in 2014, StatsCan shows.
These numbers dismay Bill Eggertson, executive director of the Canadian Association for Renewable Energies. Eggertson lives in the outskirts of Ottawa in a house festooned with solar panels and wind turbines; the province of Ontario buys power from his 10 kW of solar panels at 80¢ kWh. His is one of thousands of homes selling power from rooftops to the grid, and he cannot fathom why StatsCan says solar energy production has declined.
“Who the heck is aggregating the data, and are the data accurate?” asks Eggertson. “Who is running this ship? What is going on? I don’t know. I am not saying that StatsCan sucks beyond belief, but this highlights that something is going wrong.”
Eggertson attended a meeting two years ago at Statistics Canada’s headquarters in Ottawa to discuss the way the agency measures electricity production, but never heard from the agency again.
Mike Scrim, assistant director of energy statistics at Statistics Canada in Ottawa, conceded in an interview that “we knew there were data gaps on the renewable side. A large chunk of the challenge we are facing is that most of the producers (of power from the wind and sun) are not large.”
Further muddying the situation, StatsCan sent the National Post a graph indicating that solar and wind generation capacity has risen in Ontario since 2008, even as the agency reports declines in power from renewables.
Scrim explains the contradiction as follows: Statistics Canada data to the end of 2015 measured only producers of power from solar panels or wind turbines who made more than 20,000 mWh of power. Starting this month, StatsCan told the Post, it will survey every source with at least 500 kW of wind generation capacity, and 100 kW of solar power capacity.
Perhaps these adjustments will mollify some of Statistics Canada’s critics. Scott Luft, an energy blogger in Ontario, said, “the StatsCan data is awful. It can’t be the basis for anything. I stopped paying attention to it a long time ago.”
The Independent Electricity System Operator, an Ontario Crown corporation, employs about 700 people to manage Ontario’s power grid, and buys solar and wind power at a steep premium over the market price of power. Alexandra Campbell, a spokeswoman for the IESO, insists that solar and wind generates a much larger slice of Ontario’s power than a few years ago.
“To me it is clear there is something wrong with the StatsCan data,” Campbell said. “The wind output is growing pretty significantly so I don’t know what’s wrong with the StatsCan data.” In fact, IESO data suggested that, at 2 p.m. Tuesday, wind turbines produced 3 million mW of electricity, satisfying 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.
As for StatsCan’s anemic solar data, Campbell said, “Most of the solar generation is small scale and they are reporting on only the large scale.”
Even after the changes Statistics Canada announced Monday, its “electric power generation” table will not include the electricity produced by the 10kW of solar panels on Eggertson’s roof – nor from thousands of other solar panels on home roofs across Canada, even though he will sell about 17,000 kWh of electricity to the grid this year.
“We have made a big step in the right direction and we can improve it more,” Scrim said. “One of the mandates of this organization is to be relevant and to be accessible. We are starting to improve data.”
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