Mainstream media in Canada over-hyping potential of renewables

This was first posted within a longer post on Cold Air Currents

In Canada, the focus on expanding industrial wind seems to be swinging to Alberta, although they are still swinging in Toronto too.

AESO 2013 Annual Market Statistics

CBC news somewhat foolishly headlined an article built on a Lazard’s report, Solar, wind cost-competitive for peak energy, study finds:

As a source of peak energy — that is, power at times when there is the greatest demand on the electrical grid — photovoltaics are more flexible and cost-competitive than conventional technologies, Bilicic said

Bilicic apparently isn’t from around here, where Ontario returned to a winter peak in 2014 (early evenings), and Alberta always has had a winter peak – which I assume is also early evening. Solar is completely useless for those winter peaks, but certainly useful for summer peaks, and Bilicic has a point on solar for summer peaking jurisdictions.

Wind is demonstrably not reliable for summer peaks in Ontario, or Alberta. So it isn’t so much that it is not “cost-competitive for peak energy”, as that it’s not eligible for the competition.

I’ve highlighted (sloppily) three parameters of Lazard’s accounting in this chart from their reporting:

This type of chart is one reason why one needs to read both quality reporting, and fine print. Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is not particularly relevant if the calculation does,”not take into account potential social and environmental externalities … or reliability-related considerations.” And if you aren’t taking externalities of coal, you wouldn’t start with “supercritical pulverized coal”and move the range to “90% carbon capture and compression.”

The CBC was not the worst offender in communicating electricity economics poorly – while, at least not that article. Tom Adams reported on some “Metro Morning with Matt Galloway” segments, one with business commentator Michael Hlinka. I can forgive Hlinka’s mistakes on units,  but Germans aren’t paying four times what Torontonians are, and “conservation” is a very poor term for efficiency – and a good term for exposing people who aren’t much interested in analysing the topic thoroughly.

The worst television report on Canadian wind energy came from the Business News Network.

Energy Watch: Alberta ‘wasting’ wind power opportunity – BNN News:

ANALYSIS: In Alberta, the winds of progress towards more renewable energy are still when they should be gale force.

The province is actually a Canadian wind energy pioneer, having been home to Canada’s first commercial wind farm at Cowley Ridge since 1993. However, with absolutely zero incentives in place to encourage the multimillion-dollar investments needed for more turbines to bag the Alberta breeze, even home-grown wind power builders may soon start to lose interest.

AESO 2013 Annual Market Statistics

The video segment accompanying the article has Jameson Berkow omitting important facts and delivering some howler non-facts.

  • He could mention Ontario has bailed on its feed-in tariff program (for projects with a nameplate capacity over 500 kilowatts)
  • He mentions coal plants coming off-line in Alberta and says renewables could replace those plants, when they cannot. Wind and solar can displace fuel as fossil fuel plants run less, but not the fossil fuel plants themselves
  • He mentions the decline in planned projects, but doesn’t note the declining value of wind generation as capacity grows. The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) reported an average 2009 market revenue for wind generators of $42.81/MWh, which was 88% of the market average $47.81. Four years later, for 2013, the numbers reported were higher, but wind’s $54.97 was only 68% of the market average, $80.19. For an explanation of that trend, see The diminishing value, and increasing costs, of wind and solar generation in Ontario
  • “The C-Train in Calgary… it’s actually entirely powered by wind power, interestingly enough. That’s a fun fact people don’t realize” – sane people recognize the claim as an unpleasant delusion.Either that train doesn’t run when it’s not windy, which production during peak hours indicated includes when it is very cold and when it’s very warm, or – and I suspect this is the fun fact – it runs on grid power.

For an opposite view of Alberta and renewables, from that promoted by the CBC and BNN, see Kenneth Green’s The bank accounts of Albertans will take a big hit if premier follows Ontario’s renewables push.

Alberta has a lot of fuel consumption on its grid that can be displaced (unlike Ontario), and has achieved good pricing on existing wind capacity, so I doubt they’ll compete for a foolishness crown with Ontario.

We all wish Alberta well in reducing it’s carbon footprint, but the value of that renewable generation is only the value of the fuel it displaces – it cannot displace capacity.

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