Ontario Power Consumers Owe Thanks to Michigan Voters

Ontario electricity consumers owe the voters of Michigan a big round of thanks for their resounding decision on November 6th to turn thumbs down on a ballot initiative that would have required a massive increase in the wind power fleet in the state. The ballot initiative got obliterated at the polls with 64% against and 36% for.

Had the initiative been carried, Ontario’s ability to dispose of excess wind generation would have been impaired. Had Michigan gone ahead with more McGuinty-style wind development, Ontario consumers would have been at increased the risk of blackouts and would have borne increased cost to dispose of excess Ontario-based wind generation.

Michigan currently has a law (PA295) that imposes a 10% renewable energy requirement on consumers. As noted by Kevon Martis of Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition, the existing law is causing utilities to build more production capacity while demand has plummeted. The only good news is that the legislature is still empowered to intervene, should it wish. The ballot initiative nicknamed “25×25” would have changed the state’s constitution to require 25% of the power consumed to be produced by renewables in the year 2025. Here is a postmortem on the Michigan vote results by Martis.

More than half of the wind power development in Ontario is located near the Lake Huron shore. More than half the wind power development in Michigan is the nearby Thumb region of the state and Gratiot and Missaukee counties in central Michigan. The key point here is that all this wind generation is located within a region of only a few hundred kilometers in radius.

One of the big lies that the wind industry pushes out is that geographic diversity solves the problem of wind intermittency. Analysis of Ontario’s wind data shows that wind farms in Ontario and upstate New York that are even 800 kilometers apart show about a 10% positive correlation in hourly production and that wind farms about 250 kilometers apart have an hourly output correlation coefficient of 50%. Many other studies of the decay of output correlation by distance in other parts of the world find almost the identical relationship.

What this means is that wind farms in Ontario and Michigan are effectively one large generating unit. Even without the 25×25 initiative, in a couple of years the aggregate size of the wind capacity close to eastern Lake Huron will be many gigawatts. This single large unit will be many times larger than the next largest generating station on either the Michigan or Ontario grids. The size of the largest generating unit on a grid relative to the size of the load and relative to the size of the next largest unit on the system is a key input for many power system reliability considerations.

Not only are Michigan and Ontario unwittingly collaborating in building a single monster generator but the electricity demand characteristics of Michigan and Ontario are also similar. As a result, the high and low wind generation events that cause power system stresses, like so-called Surplus Baseload Generation or low wind generation during peak demand periods, will be common to both systems.

As Ontario builds out the wind fleet that it has now contracted for, consumers will carry the burden of increasing amounts of excess wind generation. Bruce Sharp has authored an excellent summary of the significant consumer impacts here.

Had Michigan voters opted for 25×25, Ontario consumers would have found themselves in far worse condition than we now face.

I therefore express thanks to those Michigan voters who killed 25×25.

Post Script (November 22 9:30 am): Here is a report indicating that the regions of Michigan hosting wind developments were the strongest opponents of Proposition #3, AKA 25×25.

One Comment

  1. Good point about the single monster generator dynamic. “The wind is always blowing somewhere” is such a load of crap. My sense is that most of the people involved in pushing this stuff are either ignorant of these technical realities or are aware of but will never acknowledge them.

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