Cutting Wind Power Cuts CO2 Emissions

According to the Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator, reducing wind power output during now common surplus supply conditions will save megatonnes of CO2 emissions. Not only will cutting wind power cut emissions but consumers will save millions of dollars too. Consumers save despite Ontario wind generators getting paid for power they could have produced when consumers can’t use their power.

The root cause for these counter intuitive results is that wind power’s production characteristics are mostly out of sync with consumer needs. Given the production and demand characteristics of the rest of Ontario’s power system, wind power has grown to the point where it has become toxic to the system.

According to the IESO’s analysis, new rules that would allow the IESO to order wind generators to cut production during surplus power conditions would save $180-225 M and 1.6-2.0 Mt of CO2 per year in 2014 alone.

The context for this analysis is that the IESO is studying how to fix dispatch problems now becoming common on Ontario’s grid as the amount of baseload, must-run, and intermittent generation increases while electricity demand falls. Excess generation like Ontario is developing is widely recognized as a threat to power grid reliability and has been a factor in major grid failures and close calls in several jurisdictions.

While the IESO is studying how to mitigate problems caused by excess wind power, the Ontario government continues to make the situation worse every day through irresponsible procurement of even more wind power.

The compound ramp problem with wind power highlighted in the IESO’s most recent analysis was a prominent feature of technical presentations I made to the IESO in 2008 and 2009.

The most recent Auditor General’s report highlighted the fact that although the Ontario government undertook its green power initiatives for environmental reasons, the government has produced no analysis addressing the effectiveness of the measures taken in achieving emission reductions.


  1. Tom,

    As you and others have pointed out, the retirement of coal will greatly exacerbate the problem, given coal’s typical operating range of 10-100% of rated and natural gas’ much lesser flexibility. Certainly if the OPA had any inkling that Furious George was going to foist FIT on the province, they would have procured a natural gas replacement fleet with a completely different make-up, i.e. a mix of technologies with a range of start-up capabilities, from relatively-base load combined cycle gas turbine plants to quick-start simple cycle gas turbine or reciprocating engine plants.

    I’d be very curious to know to what lengths the IESO ever has or ever will explicitly point out to the various powers that be the system operating and economic risks involved in allowing seemingly unlimited quantities of renewables onto the grid.

  2. Pingback: Now we find out that “reducing” Wind Generation will “reduce” C02 Emissions! « The Big Green Lie

  3. I am sure and I recall media articles back in 2006, 07, 08, where both the IESO and OPA have both pointed out the limitations and follies of wind energy. However, both the OPA and the IESO are branches of the provincial government and therefore have no authority to speak contrarily to the wishes of our “bull-headed” premier and the lobbyists. The rest of cabinet are a bunch of “yes ministers” as their careers and incremental salaries as MP’s depend on being in good favour with the party whips. Those politicians deserve to drown in their own swill, but this is at a hefty cost to the ratepayers and taxpayers. Eric

  4. page 9 of IESO
    “the environmental and financial savings achieved by incorporating wind into the 5‐minute dispatch are estimated to be $180‐225 million and 1.6‐2.0 Mt of avoided CO2 emissions, in 2014.”

    page 10 of the same IESO link – here’s my guess as to what is happening:

    Nuclear is taken “off-line” (or at least the steam turbines are) when demand is too low, but wind is too intermittent to cover for nuclear, so extra hydro is turned on when it should be off (should be building up pumped storage at niagara?). Peak occurs when extra hydro is needed, but that extra hydro is unavailable since it was run down at night, and gas fired turbines are brought online.

    IESO solution:
    At night, When demand is low, leave nuclear on full, and turn wind off. Also at night, allow hydro to build up (is niagara pumped storage the main part of this?), and use it at the peak to avoid gas generation.

    Solutions put forward by wind advocates:
    1) The grid will allow balance of wind generation from different locations. “Grid is good”.
    2) More pumped storage will allow more wind.

    Reality for wind power: Toronto is growing, and transmission is constrained – hence the need to generate dispatchable power locally – gas turbines. (is that your take on it?)

    If the goal is ultimately not to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, then where is the path to that end? Double or triple the current daytime TOU rate? The market + higher rates will solve it? Or do we need carrot & stick – higher daytime rates and incentives for efficiency measures. Combined heat & power? (yes still burning fossil fuels, but ideally in places where they already get burned for heat) – loads of this was killed off in the early 1990’s. Build more transmission? – so the price of wind is actually wind + transmission/storage. Hence, Quebec & Manitoba to the rescue?

  5. How much “pumped storage” capacity does Ontario currently have available to use ?
    I am under the impression that Ontario is geographically challenged when it comes to reservoirs to store water when the wind turbines
    are spinning 24% of the time ?

    • Ontario has one pumped storage facility. It is located at the Beck complex on the Niagara River and has a nameplate capacity of 174 MW. For every unit of energy used for pumping, about 0.46 units of energy are recovered. Although the facility suffers from a very poor recovery ratio, the fact that the facility can time shift some water for the large and very efficient Beck II facility gives a great boost to the economics of the pumped storage facility.

      Pumped storage facilities that are stand-alone systems separated from natural flow generators are in general much less useful machines.

      Several of Ontario’s existing hydro-electric generators could be retrofitted with pumping systems, although at substantial cost.

      The existing fleet of hydro-electric units does have some operational flexibility. Historically, this flexibility was optimized to help support Ontario’s relatively inflexible nuclear generators.

      As society has become more alert to the ecological and social impacts of dam operations, the operational flexibility of many of the hydro-electric facilities in the province has become more restrictive. Here is a little example that illustrates the point. During dry spring weather in 1995, intermittent operation of the Mountain Chute generating station on the Madawaska River had a disastrous effect on pickerel spawn in the tailrace discharge of the station. The tailrace of that GS is just about the only place pickerel can successfully spawn between Barrett Chute and Mountain Chute. Pickerel are a significant game fish species in that part of the world. Following this bad event, tougher rules were imposed on Mountain Chute to require higher minimum flows during spawning season to protect the eggs from getting dried out.

      There are lots of glib statements out there about Ontario having lots of hydro-electric capacity to firm intermittent wind and solar generation. When you get into the details, what you find is that such flexibility that does exist is already heavily committed. You also find that during some hydrological situations — such as higher than normal spring runoff or lower than normal summer inflows — there is much less flexibility than normally exists.

      One minor nit with Rachel’s comment is that Ontario’s wind generators are spinning a very high fraction of all hours, although most of that time their output is very low. The average capacity factor for the wind fleet is a little higher than 24% too.

  6. You would all do well to visit Catherine’s link and read the entire interview. In it Dr.Till
    outlines in some detail the very technology that makes moot everything that is wrong with our energy policies and practices! Although the pentameter is a little tiring (it is an interview with a nuclear physicist after all) a more eloquent commentary on the same technology is provided by his colleague Dr. George Stanford here:

    What these men are talking about is essentially all the pollution free energy for all humanity forever! What we must understand is that the reactor that Dr. Till chose for
    his research (EBR II) was already twenty years old when the program started in 1984.
    This is not new or unproven technology!

    Go here: (Section IV)
    for a detailed calculation on just how long this energy source will last. In the unlikely
    event that some of you are not familiar with scientific notation, simply write the number
    and then move the decimal point to the right as indicated by the exponent: Thus
    2.9 x 10 to the 9th power is 2900000000.0 or 2.9 BILLION!

    As the technology described in the links above can just as easily use thorium for fuel as
    uranium, the time figure calculated is increased by a factor of four as there is apparently
    three times more extractable thorium on the planet then uranium! We’re talking about
    substantial amounts of energy here!

    What was the problem(s) again? Oh yeah – Dalton!


    • Sean,
      The IFR/EBR reactors you are referring to have been worked on for a long time. A long development cycle doesn’t prove that the technology is proven. Conventional nuclear technology investment has proven to be so unfruitful that virtually no private money is flowing into it now. The unconventional reactors might look great on paper but why do you have confidence?

  7. Tom

    You’re kidding right?

    My confidence resides in the fact that fast reactors have been used commercially and militarily to varying degrees since the first one went online near Detroit in 1957
    (Fermi 1)only 11 short years after the technology was first visited by Enrico Fermi in 1946 (Clementine reactor).

    The 65 MW EBR II reactor operated flawlessly for thirty years and provided the majority of the power to the campus at the Argonne Labs in Idaho over that period. Russia is still using this technology commercially (BN600) and has for decades (BN350), She also used lead/bismuth
    cooled fast reactors in many of her alpha class attack submarines.
    England had a fast reactor on her grid for over a decade (the Dounray reactor). France had this reactor (Phenix) on her grid from 1968 until 2010. Her super Phenix reactor
    however, had a myriad of problems common to all first build megalithic reactors and was shut down after supplying useful energy for only a short time. Other countries like India and Japan have built experimental units as well and there are quite a few more that fail to revisit my memory.

    There are a bunch of things wrong with our current reactor technology and some of these
    would apply to fast reactors if they were foolishly built on the same megalithic scale as Frances Super Phenix reactor above: 1) There is not really any economy of scale when talking about nuclear reactors. The build time to full power on GW sized reactors is stupidly long and subject to all kinds of unforeseen flaws. These of course must be “re-engineered” basically onsite. This is still the case even when building subsequent reactors of the same design as AECL has discovered with with her CANDU’s. Modular designs of 300MWth can be pre-fabricated, shipped to the site and assembled. Any flaws are then found at the factory and solved rather more easily for less cost. 2) Unless the reactor can transmute all uranium 238 into plutonium, and all uranium fueled reactors do this somewhat if we want them to or not, and then be able to use this plutonium as fuel (they all do anyway to a very small degree) then much of the original energy in the fuel is lost as waste. In the CANDU, the waste still contains 98.5% of its original energy! 3) Spent fuel storage and subsequent disposal: Current reactors make mountains of this and currently there is no coherent long term disposal plan. Fast reactor can use this waste as fuel feedstock with relatively simple reprocessing.
    Using this method which is repeatedly done until all the energy has been extracted, fast
    reactors are capable of extracting all (OK 99.5%) of the total energy available, thus leaving NO waste legacy for future generations. 4) Safety! We currently have multiple redundant
    “engineered” safety system for the most likely accident scenarios. Fast reactors are “passively and inherently” safe because of physics. This was demonstrated TWICE by Dr. Till and his team on the same day April 3rd, 1986. I’m sure you know what happened at Chernobyl
    a scant three weeks later!
    As for private money, correct me if I am wrong (and you will) every single nuclear reactor in the US is privately owned (144 of them) and the owners are quite happy they have them! It was not the government that halted nuclear reactor construction in the US, it was fear put into the public’s mind by egregiously miss-informed environmentalists and vested interest from outside the nuclear industry. Ironically, more people have been killed from the failures of hydro power dams than deaths caused by all other commercial energy sources combined – including Chernobyl!

    I can go on at some length on this subject after decades of research but you can learn about
    all this if you want. This information is in the public domain for access by all.

    Your comments above tell me two things: 1) you didn’t go to the link and read the interviews
    both of which would have pointed out much of what I just did 2) You don’t fully appreciate the ramifications. There was a reason I added the links that I did. They don’t leave much to the imagination.



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