Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ontario electricity: Wind out-produces coal
11 Jan 2013

Wind turbines out-produced coal-fired power plants in Ontario last year for the first time.

Meanwhile, the underlying wholesale price of electricity crept up by 2.9%, according to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). Over the past two years, it has risen 13%. The rise in wind power is set to continue, with more turbines due to come on stream, and Ontario's last coal-fired plants set to shut down at the end of this year.

The Ontario Power Authority has said that Ontario has close to 2,000 MWs of wind power in operation with another 3,800 MWs under development. In its year-end review, the IESO reported that wind turbines churned out 4.6 TWs of electricity in 2012 up from 3.9 TWs the year before. (A TW is a billion kW hours).

That meant wind supplied 3% of the province's power last year, out-producing coal at 2.8%. The numbers delighted the Canadian Wind Energy Association. "It's a sign of things to come", said vice president Brandy Giannetta. "We've really proven ourself as a resource".

But wind's increase presents some challenges to the province's power system, which sometimes has too much power flowing onto the grid. Energy consultant Bruce Sharp noted that when there's a surplus, wind turbines continue producing power but the system operators throttle back production at Bruce Power's nuclear plants-while still paying them for the lost production.

Meanwhile, Ontario Power Generation also spills water at some of its hydroelectric-electric stations to make room for the wind power on the grid. In effect, he said, that replaces low-cost hydroelectric power with higher-priced wind power. nuclear power is still the mainstay of Ontario's power supply, making up almost 57% of last year's supply compared with 55% the year before.

That could well grow this year, as two long-idle units at Bruce Power's nuclear station returned to production late in 2012. The wholesale price of power also crept high in 2012, the IESO reported. It rose to 7.37 ¢ a kW hour from 7.16 ¢. In 2011, it was 6.52 ¢. That price does not include delivery and regulatory charges.

Consumers don't pay that price directly. They either pay time-of-use rates, which are adjusted twice a year; or they buy their power from an energy retailer. But the wholesale price underlies consumer prices. Critics have blamed the increase in renewable power such as wind for the rise in prices.

Giannetta argued that's not the case, noting that the price of wind power for contracts going forward was trimmed this year from 13.5 ¢ a kW hour to 11.5 ¢. That's competitive with other types of new generation, she said.