Will Ontario become an alternative-energy powerhouse?

With election campaigns ramping up in Ontario, policies that support the development of renewables like wind are under fire—the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program is at the front of the firing squad’s line.

But according to a new report released by Actual Media on September 6, the now-controversial incentive is only responsible for 800 kilowatts of the nearly 1,600 megawatts of wind power online in Ontario—that’s less than one per cent of installed wind generation in the province.

Through a review of data from a wide variety of sources (including information published by the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), the Pembina Institute, Ontario Power Generation, Ontario Power Authority (OPA), consultant reports from the Wind Concerns Ontario website, Sierra Club of Canada, Independent Electricity Systems Operator, the Government of Ontario, academics and other media sources), the report, Wind in Ontario, provides a unique perspective on the social, legal, economic, environmental and political issues surrounding wind energy in the province of Ontario.

Like every form of energy, wind power is not perfect.  However, the current debate in Ontario has framed wind energy as either a blessing or a curse. Some of the resources used by both sides have been taken out of context. In other cases, the research was poorly conducted or has been sponsored by advocacy groups, which has led to accusations of bias in the research. Even so, the considerable volume of independent research that exists demonstrates that the arguments made in favour of wind are considerably more supported than those against it.

This report demonstrates that the arguments made against wind, specifically the potential impact on the environment, human health, and the economics of wind power, are not supported by the available resources.

However, as in the case with most issues, the findings are not black and white.

Wind energy does receive subsidies from government in the form of higher per kilowatt hour (kWh) pricing (13.5 cents compared to 6.5 cents for nuclear and 11 cents for natural gas). As an added advantage, Ontario’s electricity grid manager, the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO), is obligated to purchase all power produced from turbines regardless of need, a process known as “self scheduling.” Without these subsidies, some argue that wind would not be viable.

The numbers may be weighted against wind when comparing the cost of building old nuclear reactors to the cost of building new wind turbines. But CanWEA president Robert Hornung says the more accurate comparison would be the cost of building new reactors to new turbines. When evaluated in this light, the cost differences between the two changes considerably. Moody’s Investment Service released a report in 2008 that suggested the price per kWh of energy from a new nuclear plant could be 15 cents/kWh by 2014. In 2009, the OPA was directed by the Ontario government to acquire bids for new reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. The only bid that met the conditions set by OPA was from Atomic Energy of Canada, with a proposed price of 20 cents/kWh. When compared to the future costs of building new reactors, 13.5 cents for wind does not seem unreasonable, especially since FIT rates are up for evaluation this year, as they are every two years.

Wind in Ontario Key Findings:

  • Bat mortality rates could be lowered by as much as 60 per cent without having a significant effect on electricity production. A month-long experiment concluded that financial losses from these mitigation measures amounted to between $3,000 and $4,000.
  • Assuming an average capacity factor of 30 per cent, which is the industry standard, Samsung could potentially make $710 million per year from 2,000 MW of installed wind resources. Samsung could make an additional $350 million from 500 MW of installed solar power, with an approximate capacity factor of 20 per cent. Totalled, Samsung could potentially make approximately $1 billion per year.
  • Fossil fuels cause about six times more avian deaths per gigawatt hour than wind energy.
  • Projects located in internationally recognized Important Bird Areas, as defined by Bird Life International, can have the potential to negatively impact the local environment. While wind power can be of net benefit to the environment and the public, regulators must pay more attention to project locations.

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Doug McCallum is a research associate with Actual Media.  To order your copy of Wind in Ontario, visit www.renewcanada.net/windinontario or contact Douglas at doug@actualmedia.ca or 416-444-5842 ext. 118.