Smart Grid? Part 1: Ontario’s Next Energy Project

This posting kicks off a new series reporting on “Smart Grid”.

As my co-author Kathy Hamilton and I argue in our column “Ontario’s next energy project” published in the National Post today, Smart Grid is the big new fad taking over power industry policy.

The developments taking place in Ms. Hamilton’s backyard in Marmora, Ontario point to where Ontario’s electricity future may be going. I have reported on safety issues associated with the Marmora project previously in this post. I intend to present more reports on the Marmora project in future.

I am particularly privileged to collaborate with Ms. Hamilton.

Ontario's next energy project


  1. Hi Tom,

    I share many of your views concerning the need to halt and reconsider development of any large-scale energy (or in this case capacity) supply resources in Ontario. What remains unclear to me though, having searched through your website, is how you would propose to tackle the GHG emissions challenge. It seems to me that there are several options and tools available to steer the energy economy in the Province in a lower-GHG direction. Which of these do you prefer and why? Or do you have views concerning climate change that are at odds with the recent findings of the IPCC?



    • As the CO2 content of the atmosphere has continued to rise the temperatures have leveled off or decreased according to most of the temperature sets (HADCRUT, GISS, HCN) etc.

      The idea that CO2 is a climate driver has been falsified by actual data.

      So what is the concer about CO2 — Carbon Dioxide — a plant food essential for life on Earth.

      Unless CO2 rises from the current 0.04% (somewhat less actually) to say 2% to 8% what indeed would be the issue?


      • Willr: At risk of dating myself, do you remember the late ’60’s fad of singing or talking to houseplants to make them flourish? Somehow I don’t think it was the sound of human voices that acted like fertilizer to my African Violets, do you? 🙂
        Besides: I kind of like breathing out as well as in and have no intention of stopping doing both (which I suppose would make my doing so an ideal target for Leviathan)…. how about you?
        btw: Have you seen this little hooter?

    • My views on anthropogenic change change are neither original nor informed by serious study. I am not confident in the judgement of the IPCC, I think the Svensmark/Friis-Christensen hypothesis of a climate role for cosmic particles appears appears pretty solid, and I also think that the value of CO2 specifically as plant food is on balance positive. However, I am also uncomfortable with messing with the natural chemistry of the atmosphere. Ross McKitrick has previously proposed a carbon tax tied to actual climate trends, a proposal that makes sense to me. In light of the trend over the last 15 years, it appears that the tax level would be at or close to zero.

      • You fart, you mess with the natural chemistry of the atmosphere… or perhaps methane is part of that chemistry?

      • Thanks, Tom. I certainly share your discomfort with “messing with the natural chemistry of the atmosphere” and confess to a similar discomfort with messing with the chemistry of the oceans.

        With respect to McKitrick’s proposal, were such a carbon tax to be imposed, it is not clear to me how based on the climate evidence that it would be close to zero. Looking at the NASA website for temperature, land ice, sea ice cover and sea levels (, and the EPA for ocean acidity (, here is what the data indicate since 1950 (the period when CO2 concentrations went above historic norms) or to the date that data are provided:

        Temperature – up 0.75C since 1950
        Arctic sea ice extent in September – declined 50% since 1980
        Land ice – declining by several Gt since 2004
        Sea level – up 80 mm since 1950
        Ocean acidity – declining (i.e. more acidic) with increasing CO2

        I presume that your “trend over the last 15 years” refers only to the temperature data, which since an exceptionally high level in 1998 have yet to surpass that level. All other climate indicators point to a changing climate correlated with increasing CO2 concentrations, and the temperature correlation is also strong and positive over any period longer than the recent fifteen-year period 1998-2013.

        Given the trends in all key indicators and in temperature since 1950, it appears then that McKitrick’s carbon tax proposal would need to be immediately applied to address the climate changes that have already occurred since 1950. My follow-up questions:

        1. Does your lack of confidence in the IPCC extend to a lack of confidence in the data collection abilities of NASA and the US-EPA and, if so, what is the basis for that lack of confidence?

        2. Are you saying that you support the immediate implementation of a carbon tax to address (with the objective of reversing) the climate changes that have already occurred since 1950?

        3. Would this carbon tax remain in place until carbon dioxide levels are undone (i.e. back to 280 ppm) or until the key climate indicators return to historic levels?

        I have addressed (or will before the night is out) a few other matters in my response to your co-author below.

  2. Thanks for the excellent article Tom and Kathy. It’s obvious to me that the energy debacle will continue until the federal sustainability act, the Ontario green energy act and party politics are recinded, abolished and/or otherwise shut down.
    And to Rick. I don’t know about Tom’s views on GHG But I, for one, will accept the IPCC’s latest admission that none of their computer model generated predictions were accurate, and were in fact wildly divergent from reality and that the impact of CO2 was, therefore, not as great as they had supposed (or hyped). It’s time to fix todays problems, the future of the planets climate is in the hands of the sun and geological forces we can not in any way meaningfully alter.
    CO2 is plant food, and is only a tiny part of the atmosphere, more is better!

  3. People who “believe in” the power of pumped storage need to review the mathematics behind the possibility. It is a complete and utter waste of money.

    If we adopt solar and wind as major components of our energy infrastructure as we are weaned from fossil fuels, we have to solve the energy storage problem in a big way. An earlier post demonstrated that we do not likely possess enough materials in the world to simply build giant lead-acid (or nickel-based or lithium-based) batteries to do the job. Comments frequently pointed to pumped hydro storage as a far more sensible answer. Indeed, pumped storage is currently the dominant—and nearly only—grid-scale storage solution out there. Here, we will take a peek at pumped hydro and evaluate what it can do for us. –
    — excerpt —
    Drain the Great Lakes

    While we’re having “fun,” let’s see what we could get out of the Great Lakes. The upper four lakes are all at essentially the same elevation (6 meter drop from Superior to Erie), while there is a 99 m drop between Erie and Ontario. We call this Niagra Falls, although only half the drop is developed across the falls proper.

    If we drained one meter from every upper lake, we would get 54 billion kWh of energy: about a sixth of the target capacity. If performed over seven days, the flow would be 375,000 cubic meters per second, or 125 times the normal flow over the falls. Now I’d pay to see that! But I would first want to visit every town along the St. Lawrence River one last time.

    If we tried to trap the water in Lake Ontario so-as to spare those downstream of the wrath, its level would rise 12 meters (39 feet). Watch out Toronto & Rochester!

    The pipe delivering this water to the turbines would have to be over 125 meters in diameter (or 160 tubes each 10 m in diameter) to limit the velocity of the water through the pipes/turbines to below freeway speeds! What fun.

    Soon we will have politicians contemplating draining the Great Lakes and interrupting the water flow to James Bay. What a cheery thought! ..and I am sure they still intend to turn the Boreal Forest into wood pellets — which have far less energy than coal or natural gas. All to appease people with no skills for calculation.

    Bahh Humbug!

  4. Why is GHG coming into the conversation here?……this is about making huge amounts of money off a completely useless and insane “project” much like Enron pulled on an unsuspecting public!
    Call a spade a spade here………..this “pumped storage” project is just another outright ponzi scheme similar to the Green Energy Plan that has ruined Rural Ontario!!!
    Debate THAT Rick!

    • Apologies for the tangent.

      Enron is often invoked in energy discussions as a personification of evil, usually by folks who oppose competitive energy markets.

      I had the occasion during my career on the Ontario Market Design Committee (1999-2000) and then on the board of directors of the Independent Market Operator (2000-2001) to see the work of Enron in Ontario is great detail. Enron was at the time an extremely powerful and rapidly expanding firm. Enron’s representatives and I took opposing positions on only two issues I can recall. One was whether local distribution utilities, like Toronto Hydro and Hydro Ottawa, would act as monopsonists, buying power under long term contracts on behalf of their captive customers. Enron favoured the monopsony design whereas I favoured a market design more similar to how Ontario natural gas consumers buy their gas today. Enron’s monopsony approach did not prevail. Another debate was whether a portion of the supply of power to Ontario consumers should be reserved for renewable producers, who would compete amongst themselves but not with non-renewable producers. Enron’s rep on the Market Design Committee, and many others including Steve Probyn for whom I had a great regard, supported a protected market for renewables. When Enron, Probyn and their supporters lost the vote Probyn stood up in the meeting and hurled his pen at me.

      Although I disagreed with Enron on these points, I believe that the proposals they were supporting were workable solutions. It is possible that the sad story of what happened to Ontario’s efforts to introduce a competitive market in electricity might have been less sad had I lost those two votes against Enron.

      Other than those two issues, Enron and I had very similar voting records during this period of responsibility.

      I attempted to apprise myself of Enron’s electricity operations in Canada while the firm was active here. Most of its activities were centred in Alberta and Ontario. From all I learned, Enron in Canada was an upstanding corporate citizen.

  5. Tom, the privilege was truly mine. Nobody I’ve ever known but you could have possibly collaborated with the likes of me and produced this tangy but oh-so sweet lemonade from Northland Power’s “pumped storage” lemon.

    Thank you so much for putting up with my relentless demands of your knowledge, time and patience over the past 2 years. Gee, has it really been that long, yet such a flash going by?

    Here’s hoping more people from Marmora will pile in here and add their thanks to mine, once the sadness that hit so many in our wee village on Friday eases a little. The awesome editor of the Financial Post as well.

  6. Hi Kathy,

    I confess to having limited knowledge about this proposed Project and, other than your article, only from the perspective of Northland. As someone who has spent 15 years working with communities considering whether to oppose or outright opposing large-scale hydroelectric schemes, you will have your work cut out for you stopping this Project.

    Tom is right to point out that the upfront cost and related ratepayer implications of the proposal will be a key argument, but you would do well to come up with other reasons why the proposal is inappropriate. The reality is that as non-GHG energy alternatives become cheaper and carbon reduction becomes more necessary, non-GHG capacity is becoming a key issue.

    If history is any guide, these kinds of proposals have a tendency to never completely die but simply get delayed on the basis of economic arguments only to be proposed again a few years later – unless you can find a technical (as opposed to an economic) reason why they are not feasible, a site design alternative that is more acceptable, or an alternative technology that indefinitely displaces the proposal on the basis of cost. On that note, if you have not already done so, you may want to take a look at the filings made by opponents and review panels/boards in relation to the following:

    Muskrat Falls –, (completed 2011)
    Site C – (this proceeding is ongoing)
    Conawapa/Keeyask – (this proceeding is ongoing)

    If you want particular filings or to discuss this further, flip a note to Tom and he can put us in contact.



    • Please allow me to point out one detail you may have missed in the co-authored piece:
      “The Marmora project was endorsed by local council members without public notice.”

      The line that follows the above expands on it a tad. This made possible the Reeve’s phony claim to having “overwhelming support from the community” possible, in addition to all else that has followed since June 10, 2011. For more detailed explanation of the background problem to the “pumped storage” problem:

      I hope to get the even more insidious background details of 2010, which facilitated creation of that first “local” background problem as quoted above posted to my site asap, but that has proven rather challenging this week…

      I could have merely sold my house to some sucker from elsewhere and moved to higher ground within the same municipality, if I had no principles or dependents who call this home to worry about after I’m gone.

      I’ll worry about the weather next century when I know I’ll have enough food on the table for my family next month and be able to afford enough water to flush the toilet next year.

      • Thanks, Kathy.

        As frustrated as I suspect you are with a potential lack of meaningful public consultation at the local level, if the proposed Project moves forward it will have to go through potentially both a federal and provincial environmental assessment and will require permits for construction and operation. I was simply attempting to point out that these regulatory processes, though far from perfect, would provide your group with additional opportunities to raise your concerns about the proposed Project to a different and broader audience. You may find that there are lessons to learn from those who have already fought similar battles.

        Good luck.


  7. The intent in Ontario is to use wind and solar to produce electricity. Then to have electricity storage to avoid using conventional backup power for these renewable energy sources.
    The energy storage needed to do this is so very great that this is not a feasable plan to say nothing about the huge expense involved in trying to store this energy.
    To be realistic who is going to pay for all of this storage even if this could be done?
    Carbon taxes are nothing more than demand side management. Why not just ration electricity if you want to reduce demand?
    Demand side managemnet is an old tool which has often been used by dictators to control people.
    But if you just rationed electricity then there would be a whole lot of people who couldn’t make gobs of money off from renewable energy projects.

    • “The intent in Ontario is to use wind and solar to produce electricity”

      Only a small amount of it. Currently plans call for perhaps 5% of the grid-delivered power come from PV, for instance.

      “The energy storage needed to do this is so very great”

      This is an old canard. The total amount of storage required is somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes per generator. Why only that?

      Well you need to recall that we get about 50% of our power from nuclear. Nuclear reactors don’t throttle. So in order to deal with the fact that our daytime peak use is about 50% greater than the baseline, we need some other form of power that does throttle.

      That used to be coal, but due to a combination of factors, this is rapidly switching to NG. And before anyone tries to make that political name this or that party or politician, I urge you to recall that this is happening across North America at rates that make Ontario’s switch look tiny and slow in comparison.

      So as it turns out, there is already more than enough backup power to supply 100% cut out of all renewables. And that’s because of nuclear, no other reason.

      In spite of this I often see arguments that you need to install some sort of fuelled plant to make up for (say) wind, and this adds to its cost. Never have I seen anyone note the obvious that you also have to add some sort of fuelled plant to make up for nuclear, in spite of that being much more true.

      In any event, one might wonder if this is all worthwhile. If you’re going to have, say, a wind turbine, and that will be backed up by an NG turbine, why not just build the NG turbine and be done with it? Recently I’ve noticed a number of different “takes” on this line – you need to keep them running so you actually burn more fuel, you have to start them up from cold so they burn more fuel, they wear down more quickly so they cost more, etc etc etc.

      The one thing that’s always missing from these statements is a single number. So let me save you the effort:

      As you’ll see from this report, every watt from a wind turbine offsets a massive cost in fuel, that over time makes both systems *more* cost effective.

      So what’s that about 15 minutes? Well that’s the time it takes to start a new-generation turbine and get it hot. In other words, if we had 15 to 20 minutes of storage that would eliminate *all* the downsides to NG peaking. You would leave them turned completely off and then bring them up as needed.

      All of this is somewhat silly though. Right now as I write this, Hydro Quebec has six months of power stored in up Grande-Baleine. I suspect the Marmora project won’t be on that sort of scale! 🙂

      If you’d like to do the math yourself:

  8. Thanks Tom & Kathy for writing your eye opening article on the proposed billion dollar boondoggle pumped storage project here in Marmora. The fact it was published in THE FINANCIAL POST gives our local opposition so much more credibility than we had before. If in-the-know FP readers & investors now see through this scheme as an unwise and wacko investment, then even the majority of the local yokels here in rural Ontario will finally realize what a bill of goods they are being sold! I canvassed door to door with Kathy for our local demonstration against this project, and a high percentage of locals ARE opposed to this dangerous & Rube Goldbergesque scheme, despite what our local Council members have been saying. Thanks again for your support & well-researched journalism! The lives of the residents of Marmora are potentially safer now that the ‘damn-lake-in-the-sky’ has been exposed as a dangerous, costly & wacko scheme.

  9. About Marmora pumped hydro storage – if approved, it will be $10B disaster for Ontario taxpayers. It is required approx. 10KWh of solar or wind stored to deliver to Grid 1KWh. Can confirm it.

    I am offering new solution for energy production – using my device which converts deep water pressure into baseload energy (if coupled to generator) with rate 20MW @ 5bar per every cubic meter of device size. On max. depth of lake Ontario 200m device 2.5m dia and 3m long will deliver 1GW equal to one nuclear reactor output.
    If this development supported, it will make busy all Ontario industry and become again Canada manufacturing engine.
    Instead all efforts are made to discredit development, kill Company, destroy Inventor. Who are enemies?

  10. Here in the “Forest Capital of Canada” we live with horrors of industrial wind energy. Lots of people don’t care.
    Anyway, our example shows that Canada and Ontario “environmental assessment” processes are a sham; and when the worse-case scenarios happen, there is no remedy.
    Beware and consider the absurdity of this press release, retrieved from on
    May 16, 2006:

    “Attention Business Editors:
    Ontario’s Largest Wind Farm Officially Opens
    99 Megawatt Erie Shores Wind Farm Will Power 32,000 Homes

    PORT BURWELL, ON, April 13/CNW/ – Ontario Energy Minister Donna Cansfield today joined the owner and developers of the $186 million Erie Shores Wind Farm for the Official Opening of Ontario’s largest wind farm.

    “The Erie Shores Wind Farm will help meet Ontario’s increasing demand for clean renewable energy.” said Clean Power Income Fund CEO Stephen Probyn, at the official opening at Turbine Nine near Port Burwell, Ontario. “The project is on schedule and its opening is just in time to support this summer’s energy requirements.”

    Erie Shores will generate 99 megawatts of electricity from 66 wind turbines stretched along 29 kilometres of the northern shoreline of Lake Erie between Copenhagen and Clear Creek, Ontario. More than 25 farmers are hosting the 66 wind turbines on their properties.

    “A shining example of the provincial government’s strong commitment to clean, renewable energy, the Erie Shores Wind Farm will generate enough electricity for 32,000 Ontario homes,” said Mr. Probyn. “Erie Shores is win-win for consumers, the host communities, and the environment.”

    The project is owned by Clean Power Income Fun. The project was one of the successful bids in the Ontario Government’s November 2004 Request for Proposals for 300 MW of renewable energy. The developer is AIM PowerGen Corporation of Toronto, a prominent windpower developer with projects in Western Canada, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

    The Erie Shores Wind Farm holds a 20-year, fixed price power purchase agreement with the Ontario Power Authority.

    With the addition of the 99 MW Erie Shores Wind Farm, Clean Power Income Fund is invested in 44 power generating facilities located in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and 10 U.S. states with a total capacity of 450 MW. Four environmentally preferred technologies – hydro, windpower, biomass and landfill gas recovery – delivered approximately 1.5 million MWh of electricity in 2005, almost exclusively under long-term sales contracts, at minimal to zero fuel cost.

    Clean Power is also engaged in North American sales of Renewable Energy Credits and is the first income fund to be certified under the Government of Canada’s Environmental Choice (M) Program (1). The Fund is responsible for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 6,000,000 tonnes (C02 equivalent) per year.

    Clean Power Income Fund’s units and convertible debentures are listed and posted for trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbols “CLE.UN” and “CLE.DB”, respectively.

    1. A labelling program established by Environment Canada. Qualified energy generation participants are authorized to carry the EcoLogo (M) label if they meet or exceed all applicable government environmental safety and performance regulations and standards as well as other certification criteria (including the use of renewable fuel) specific to the generation technology being considered.

    This press release may contain forward-looking information or forward-looking statements within the meaning of applicable securities legislation (“forward-looking statements”). Any statements that express or involve discussions with respect to the Fund’s predictions, expectations, beliefs, plans, projections, objectives, assumptions, potentials, estimates, intentions, future events or performance (often, but not always, using words or phrases such as “believes”, “expects” or “does not expect”, “is expected”, “anticipates” or “does not anticipate”, or “intends” or stating that certain actions, events or results “may”, “could”, “would”, “might” or “will” be taken or achieved) are not statements of historical fact, but are forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements, by their nature, necessarily involve known and unknown risks, assumptions, uncertainties and other factors beyond the Fund’s ability to control or predict, that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements, or developments in our business or in our industry, to differ materially from the anticipated results, performance, achievements or developments expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements may include, but are not limited to the Erie Shores Wind Farm: helping meet Ontario’s increasing demand for clean, renewable energy; supporting this summer’s energy requirements; generating 99 MW; or generating enough electricity for 32,000 Ontario homes. Investors and others should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements as actual results could differ materially from the forward-looking statements in this press release based on risks associated with: the completion of the Erie Shores Wind Farm as currently scheduled and the ability of the Erie Shores Wind Farm to generate electricity due to factors over which the Fund has no control. The foregoing list of risks is not exhaustive. The forward-looking statements in this press release are based on the material factors and assumptions that the Fund considered reasonable at the time they were prepared, including that the Erie Shores Wind Farm will generate electricity as planned and will be completed as currently scheduled. It is important to note that: unless otherwise indicated, forward-looking statements in this press release describe our views and expectations as of the date of this press release: we caution readers not to place undue reliance on these statements as our actual results may differ materially from our expectations if known and unknown risks or uncertainties affect our business, or if our estimates or assumptions prove inaccurate, and therefore, we cannot provide any assurance that forward-looking statements will materialize; that while it is anticipated that subsequent events and developments could cause our views and expectations to change, the Fund does not undertake or assume any obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or any other reason; and all forward-looking statements contained in this press release are expressly qualified by this cautionary statement.
    For further information: contact: Stephen Probyn, President and CEO, (416) ###-### x 224; For event related information: Jennifer Stein, Temple Scott Associated (416) ###-#### x 238, Pierre Leduc, Temple Scott Associates, at event – Cell: (416) ###-####”

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