Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Opportunities and Obstacles for nuclear in Alberta

The prospects for new nuclear reactors has been a hot topic this summer, particularly following Ontario’s announcements exploring new builds of large reactors and additional consideration of smaller (modular) reactors (SMRs). Ontario had been exploring SMR’s with other provinces, initially with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, and more recently Alberta joined the group. Alberta’s electricity mix last week became a second hot topic. The current Canadian government is also a topic as it threatens to force, "a net-zero electricity system by 2035."

This seems an appropriate time for me to revisit Alberta’s electricity system in search of a route to nuclear power in that province.

Alberta’s electricity system underwent radical changes since I wrote on a former government’s activities in 2017’s Alberta.Bound. In this post I’ll concentrate on data from the Alberta Electricity System Operator (AESO) in this post, mostly from their Annual Market Statistics data visualization which currently contains data from 2015 thru to June 2023. The AESO's data indicates rapidly declining potential for nuclear in the AESO’s market in recent years.

Alberta’s coal generators saw the wish for them to disappear grow for over a decade. In 2012 I wrote on the rapid opposition to federal regulations that would see emissions from new coal-power plants limited to something impossible with any operational technology, and a maximum lifespan of 50-years mandated, then, through emissions regulation, the goalpost essentially moved to 40 years within Alberta, and then a 2030 death data was mandated, and other generation sources incented. Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) of 2017 noted the, "drive toward the development of 30 per cent of electricity generation capacity from renewable sources connected to the grid by 2030." [emphasis added] While the CLP itself spoke of efforts to remove, "policy barriers of the conversion of coal units to natural gas," many of the people that set policy had already created an understanding that ,"Two-thirds of the coal-generating capacity (4200 MW) will be replaced by renewable energy, and one-third (2100 MW) by natural gas."

Summarizing the changes in generation capacity since 2016 by grouping fossil fueled generators together (gas, coal, dual fuel), “green” together (wind, solar and storage), displaying co-generation alone and lumping everything else in under “other” (including hydro), the decline in generating capacity of firm generators fueled by coal and/or gas is apparent, as is the, related, meteoric rise of “green” ones.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

on the risk of power shortages in Ontario this summer

A regulatory body with a mission “to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the grid,” delivered its “Summer Reliability Assessment” for North American jurisdictions last month. The brief news release for the document:
warns that two-thirds of North America is at risk of energy shortfalls this summer during periods of extreme demand. While there are no high-risk areas in this year’s assessment, the number of areas identified as being at elevated risk has increased. The assessment finds that, while resources are adequate for normal summer peak demand, if summer temperatures spike, seven areas — the U.S. West, SPP and MISO, ERCOT, SERC Central, New England and Ontario — may face supply shortages during higher demand levels.
Toronto Centre MPP, the NDP’s Peter Tabuns, used that document to launch an attack on the government’s management of the electricity system in the Ontario legislature on June 1st:
“…the body that oversees electricity grids in North America reported that Ontario risks power outages this summer. In fact, Ontario is the only province in Canada that is rated with elevated risk that it can’t meet peak demand. After five years, this government’s policies of cutting funding for efficiency and conservation, of demolishing wind farms and cancelling other renewable projects have led to this.”
This has gotten the rabble roused - if the media is any indication. The Toronto Star and CTV news both reported on topic. CTV’s reporting included comments from an expert, who advised, “There really is not any cause to be alarmed”, but also commentary from the opposite sort - politicians Tabuns and the leader of Ontario’s Green party.

Since this topic doesn’t seem to be going away I’ll explain some of the structure and content of reporting on reliability, and address the substance, or lack thereof, in the criticism of the government as reducing reliability through canceling plans for additional ‘green’ energy.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

87 years of electricity demand history ought to be relevant for planning

I’ve assembled a long view of annual Ontario Electricity production and/or consumption, from 1935 to 2022. There should be policy implications to take from the data.

Over 12 years ago I published the first article on my first blog: “The Current and Future State of Electricity, as the [Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (OCEB)] comes to Ontario.” I noted in that work that 2010, “[Seemed] like a good time for a big picture overview…” The OCEB was a 10% reduction of bills to, “help consumers manage rising electricity prices for the next five years.” Twelve and half years later the discount has a different name (Ontario Energy Rebate), and is 11.7%. 2023 strikes me a lot like the period running up to the Green Energy Act, so here’s the long view of Ontario’s demand history as information to protect for a repeat of that heist as we renew interest in procuring new sources to meet future provincial demand..

The graph of demand for the last 88 years contains 4 data sources, none of which are matched precisely to another:
  • “Porter” refers to the chair of 1980’s “The Report of the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning”, and specifically data contained in appendix A of Volume 2. The figures shown are cited as originating in “Ontario Hydro’s Power Resources Report No. 790201.” In terms of comparison to other data sources in the graph the notable thing about this is that the figures represent production (not demand), and they’re a partial representation of production as there was electricity generated by entities other than Ontario Hydro.
  • CANSIM 127-001 is a Statistics Canada monthly dataset built from survey data that existed, at a couple of levels of complexity, from 1957-2007. For purposes of attempting alignment with other data sets, I’ve subtracted from the report’s “Total Available” value the figure shown for “Total Industrial Generation.” Without diving into the exact meaning of the latter field I assume it is self-generated (or behind-the-fence) generation which, while nice to know, is not a component of the other data sets in the chart. It must also be noted “Total Available” includes imports and excludes exports, unlike the “Porter” data
  • “IESO Demand” is the figure reported by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) as “Ontario Demand” - by which I understand they mean demand for supply from the IESO-controlled Grid (ICG). This differs from CANSIM 127-001 in a couple of ways: it will not capture generation from generators embedded within local distribution companies’ grids but it is data based on data far more reliable that that collected through surveying
  • “IESO Consumption”is a figure from the calculation of global adjustment charges as that proportional chargeback tool (for costs of supply not recovered through market revenue) requires calculating a consumers usage as a share of all consumers’ usage. As confusing as that sounds, this measure essentially differs from Ontario Demand in that it does capture the impact of distributed generators in supplying demand, although it omits the share of generation that is lost in transmission lines (as does the CANSIM 127-001).
The initial graphic is minorly distorted as Porter misses some generation, the survey data is inherently more prone to error, and at the latter years show the growth of distributed generation as the IESO’s “Demand” diverges from its “Consumption”.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Nuclear bros and environmentalists

 I'm Scott. 

You may know me as a nuclear bro' as I'm male and staunchly support nuclear energy. I need to preface the following as I'm only now publishing work I wrote mostly last summer only now, slightly edited with some extra paragraphs to compensate for me not having not completed the work. The motivation to put it out in the wild comes from things that impacted me in the past couple of days. On a positive note the federal government has shifted to include nuclear in programs aimed at eliminating emissions - perhaps it needs a push to reconstruct the Ministry of the Environment to align it with the new government position and this will provide it. Ignobly the greater motivation really comes from reading this interesting Twitter thread from the Patrick Brown associated with the Breakthrough Institute, and the invasion of my Twitter thread with formerly curious and interesting climate commentators/academics who stagnated intellectually a decade ago and now come out mainly to bless the words of other old stale 'environmentalist'.


One benefit I’ve gotten from social media is learning I am hated by some people I’ve never met - or even heard of. It comes when I enter arcane discussions on obscure topics and some viciousness enters from the periphery. I recognize the emotion in the irrational histrionics as I’m not immune to behaving similarly when losing my composure. I empathize with my haters. After viewing profiles to learn something about them I realize they have reason for animosity as they draw income from some pursuit I’ve attacked, repeatedly, in the past. This has worried me - I do know and like some people in fields I am not keen on (such as solar and efficiency), and I think in recent years I’ve worked at remaining civil. Unfortunately, this is now problematic. The same institutions, and people, I railed against over a decade ago in fighting the assault on the Ontario electricity consumers launched by the Green Energy Act, and related feed-in tariffs, are being manipulated in the same way by many of the same people with the same playbook as they perceive a political environment receptive to their same manipulation. If there’s hating to be done, I’m damn well going to be doing it!

What is an environmentalist?

I suggest an environmentalist is somebody considered an environmentalist by others marketed as environmentalists. There’s some requirements for that group to emerge: money, influence/access to media, communication and social skills… cinematographers.

What there hasn’t been is any requirement for accomplishment.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Ontario Residential Electricity Rates are dropping. Bills aren't.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) released Regulated Price Plan (RPP) rates for the next 12 months, and they're down 10% from the current period. Other changes were not as clear from the material published along with the new rates, which I've come to realize is necessary for residential consumers to understand that their bills will change very little. I was waiting to see what the mainstream media would publish regarding the steep, and internationally rather unique, decline in rates, but I've seen nothing - which is somewhat of a blessing given the poverty of understanding demonstrated in recent reporting on Ontario electricity. I'll explain what is happening to rates, why they're dropping for one category of consumer, why it won't change individuals' bills, and the impact on other categories of consumers from recent changes in the so-called market's pricing.

I've added summary columns to the OEB's presentation of rate changes in the following tables, to demonstrate the reduction is rates. For those hoping to find information of which rate plan is best for them I'll point to my work 2 years ago as there's no real change in the mechanics: if your usage is primarily in the lower threshold of the tiered pricing plan, use that plan - if it's mostly in the upper tier, stay with the default time-of-use (TOU) rate plan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Refurbish Pickering Nuclear Generating Station

I was approached some time ago about supporting the refurbishment of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station (PNGS). While I tried to be positive in offering to support proponents with data work, I didn’t add my name to the campaign primarily because, in addition to supporting nuclear, I try to support consumers. Things change, and the argument for a full refurbishment of reactors at PNGS has recently grown much stronger.

When I began this blog back in 2010 I pushed back against increasing electricity supply and the enormous costs unnecessary expansion was having on consumers, despite over half a century of declining growth rates in demand that had become no growth at all. In hindsight this was correct, and consumers benefited from the analysis. While Ontario has been awash in surplus supply for most of the ensuing 12 years, 2010’s desire to contract 10,700 MW of “clean, renewable energy from wind, solar and bioenergy” was never realized and today we have about 3,000 MW less than that under contract. For perspective, 3000 MW of wind at the prices the government in 2010 was contracting would have added about $25 billion in cost to Ontario’s consumers (over 20 years).

‘Renewables’ were not the only supply options being rolled back after 2010-2011. The “Oakville Generating Station” was contracted in 2009 (eventually built as the Napanee Generating Station), and that remains the last procurement initiating a major gas-fired generation station. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) not only abandoned plans for new nuclear builds but also for the refurbishment of the Pickering B, opting instead for life extension options on a far smaller scale.

I’ve long been unenthusiastic about all potential new generation which, in hindsight, was marked by high pricing due to unnecessary contracting, stagnant demand and excess generation. Including nuclear.

I shared my opinion on a supply mix for the province over 11 years ago:
The [Ontario Power Authority] is likely to determine that 8 Bruce units, and 4 Darlington units, will be able to supply 50%, of total electricity generation necessary to meet demand within Ontario… I would suggest the minister revise the wording of the directive to nuclear generation should be targeted to account to meet 50% of Ontario Demand. Looking back on statistics back to 1990, that is the level above which we become major exporters of electricity
During the next Ontario electricity planning cycle, in 2013, I developed planning tools to test different mixes under different assumptions on productivity and pricing. Again I found the most economic lower-emission scenario was the 10,000 megawatts (MW) of refurbished nuclear capacity (comprised of 8 Bruce units and 4 Darlington ones). In one scenario I’d run based on stagnant supply, adding another 2,000 MW of nuclear (roughly the combined capacity of the 4 Pickering B units) reduced gas use, and emissions, but about half the added nuclear would have been wasted, dumped or displacing other trivial emission supply.

A lot has changed for modeling since 2013: I would use much different pricing, I’d have to adjust my expectations of output from industrial wind turbines (they’re bigger and have higher capacity factors), sharply reduce solar pricing, review storage aspects, etc. But the biggest issue would be forecasting demand, and it is there that I’ve been convinced the tide is turning and the long period of stagnant electricity consumption in the province is ending.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Fake news and professional planning

As somebody who has observed, measured, critiqued and discussed Ontario’s electricity sector for a dozen years I feel compelled to discuss a couple of harmfully poor articles that have recently appeared in Toronto’s sleaziest newspapers.
Retiring Ontario’s natural gas-fired power plants would be cheaper than official estimates released last fall, critics say, adding that they believe the government suppressed the publication of modelled scenarios that would have supported closing the carbon-intensive facilities.
That begins an article that appeared in The Globe and Mail last month, ascribed to a Matthew McClearn who the paper’s website comically describes as, “an investigative reporter and data journalist with The Globe and Mail's Energy, Natural Resources and Environment Team.” McClean’s article, “Documents raise questions about costs to retire Ontario’s natural gas power plants”, quotes a single critic from his “investigation”. That critic is Jack Gibbons.

I’ll admit that Jack Gibbons is a critic. As am I. I’ve also thought of him as a self-promoting snake, but realize now he’s more of a chameleon. In 1998 Gibbons’ “Ontario Clean Air Alliance” (OCAA) was promoting gas as a replacement for coal, as it continued to do even beyond 2009 when Gibbons was advocating for the Oakville (gas-fired) Generating Station - which turned out to be the last major gas-fueled new-build generator contracted in the province. Emissions today are far lower than under any of the scenarios the OCAA lobbied for during it’s first decade-and-a-half of existence and, simply put, when the OCAA called for a gas phase-out it called for something that began while they were advocating for new gas plants. In the past couple of years the aging OCAA members seem to have yearned for the years they received attention and collected ignorant municipal councillors to sign on to a campaign putting an end date on gas-fired generation.
... we recommend that the Government of Ontario take the following actions to achieve: i) a complete gas plant phaseout by 2030; and ii) an interim 2.5 million tonne per year cap on the gas plants’ GHG pollution as soon as possible. - OCAA Feb. 2021
The OCAA gas phase-out campaign steals from the strategies of the McGuinty Liberals in Ontario, who seized the coal phase-out issue as their own in the election of 2003 by promising to end coal 7 years earlier than the other parties planned - which they subsequently didn’t, but still credited for the policy. No new-build gas generator has been initiated with a contract since 2009 in Ontario. The long-term energy plan of 2013 invented a "planned flexibility" category, which had exactly the same attributes as simple cycle gas turbines specifically because it was non palpable by that time. In response to the OCAA campaign to be seen as against what they promoted for well over a decade the Minister of Energy issued a moratorium on procuring what hadn't been procured for the past dozen years.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Ontario Electricity Exports: losses, benefits, and transmission charges

In 2021 Ontario’s electricity market sold exported electricity for $1.25 billion dollars less than Ontarians paid to have it supplied. That amount is calculated with a methodology I described one year ago. 2021’s $1.25 billion loss is an improvement on 5 of the past 6 years, and $563 million better than we fared in 2020.

Others look at exports differently. Today we visit the murky world of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) as it deals with a transmission charge for exports - which is where we find the IESO providing expert opinion.

A quick review of my work estimating losses on exports for those who haven’t memorized last year’s article: I copied (or attempted to) the methodology of the Office of the Auditor General in its 2015 annual report, which tallied up total system cost and usage to find an average cost of supply, takes revenues and volumes of exports, and does the math on how much lower the overall cost of exports was at the rate exporters paid than if they’d paid the average rate.

If I had to present a one-sentence hit on that I’d borrow from professionals on the wording and put in my calculated figures:

exports of electricity from Ontario have contributed between $1.2 and $1.8 billion of costs annually to Ontario’s Global Adjustment Charges between 2017 and 2020