Unhelpful Electro Lingo

With Ontario’s power industry now disposing of massive and increasing amounts of excess generation, one of the challenges for the public in understanding this development is penetrating the fog of confused terms the industry uses to speak about the phenomenon. Scandalously, Ontario’s government-controlled power sector does not tally the cost to consumers of the ongoing wastage.

Ontario’s power industry takes on the affectation of referring to surplus power as “baseload”. The affliction for consumers is not a surplus of baseload generation but a surplus of take-or-pay generation, some of it stupidly expensive. Some of Ontario’s take-or-pay generation is legitimately considered baseload (nuclear, run-of-river hydro, cogeneration), but increasing amounts of it are intermittent junk generation, particularly wind but also in some circumstances, such as winter, solar. (Solar generation in winter in causes more severe than necessary evening ramping requirements for flexible supply resources exclusively on days with low day-time loads.)

The adjective “baseload” usually implies a more macho type of generation. As my friend Norm Rubin has helpfully pointed out, low-cost flexible generation, where it is available, is way more cool than baseload. Consumers should only tolerate the extra financial risks usually associated with inflexible baseload generation if the delivered cost is cheap enough to justify the short run grid integration hassle and the long run risk exposure.


  1. I think the word baseload has become unhelpful, meaning 3 or 4 different things that supposedly ALL apply, but they seldom do (& maybe never did). Inflexible is one, low-cost another, low MARGINAL cost, too, & reliable, & high capacity factor. RotR hydro can be all of those, unless it’s Big Becky or many others. Nuclear was oversold as all the above, but is too often few or none. Wind and solar are “2 of the above”. I usually class them as baseload, because they’re sure not Peaking or Intermediate (the other 2 traditional categories).

    In their purest forms, all 3 refer to the “stacking order”, the order that Grid operators use in dispatching capacity. By that def, wind and solar are clearly baseload, even ahead of some RotR Hydro (which gets “spilled” first).

  2. There must be a few people at OPG and within other relevant government agencies that realize what a disaster Darlington expansion will definitely be, even if it comes in on-time, on-budget, safely cradle to grave and with Larry Solomon-endorsed health benefits. The last thing the power system needs is more inflexible output. On the margin, the value of this power is probably less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour to Ontarians. The cost, at best, will be much, much higher.

  3. “In their purest forms, all 3 refer to the “stacking order”, the order that Grid operators use in dispatching capacity. By that def, wind and solar are clearly baseload, even ahead of some RotR Hydro (which gets “spilled” first).”

    Interesting, since our small, rural Ontario RotR generating plant was shut down most of last summer – could be more interesting to know how many others were as well.

    To my mind, the only way wind and solar could also be considered Peak or Intermediate would be if their required and secondary back-up/stored energy generation source(s) were included as a “package deal” in every discussion about either. Which means to me that for them to be considered viable, electricity consumers are forced to pay for two generation sources that could have possibly been more cost-effectively (and possibly also more efficiently?) generated from one alternate source.

    Which means I find it often counter-productive to discuss either wind or solar (or battle only the “renewable” projects as is the preference of Ontario’s PC’s for good reason) without including their required back-up/energy storage costs and “problems” at the same time, since neither can be justified to consumers independently, IMO. This leads to self-defeating hypocritical stands on such issues, that defy one’s application of consistent principles.

    Oh yes, I base much of my thinking on past experience, so given my daily monitoring of Darlington being proposed and constructed, I can’t see any reason to expect it would come in on-time or on-budget. As for safety cradle to grave… there is no such thing: the only thing anyone, anywhere can be guaranteed is Death and Taxes.

  4. Base load is the minimum load generation must meet. Base load was met by generators with high capital costs and lower operating costs – with higher loads shifting those factors depending on the utilization rate of the capacity. Base load plants were more macho – they should be cleaner, and cheaper to operate.

    Intermittent supply (wind and solar) don’t fit into the supply paradigm at all – what they do is change the load that must be met. Solar matches the demand profile better (but still fluctuates greatly during daylight hours, and requires sources that can be adjusted along with it).

    I’ve argued the position that wind, particularly, isn’t supply at at all. In terms of the system’s interest in determining the supply required to meet load – it’s negative load. That just plays with the format of an equation, but I think emphasizing intermittent supply belongs on the load side of the equation is important. One of the reasons is it emphasizes the vastly increased need for variable generators on the supply side of the equation.

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