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.

NERC is the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Its stated mission is, “to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the grid.” I’d note there’s a lot of work done it that one sentence: risks can be reduced, but not eliminated, “effective” should eliminate unproductive actions such as those that serve mainly to signal virtue, and “efficient” is connected to risk reduction through the law of diminishing returns. Six regional entities exist within the NERC realm, of which Ontario is a subsection of the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC).

Graphic from NERC 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment

While the sub-title of the article covering the shock that there is any level of risk begins, “Ontario is singled out,” NERC’s reporting notes similar concerns for certain situations in 6 other jurisdictions comprising 2/3rd of its area, including:
  • “Low wind and high demand periods can result in energy emergencies” [SPP and MISO].
  • “a risk that dispatchable generation can be insufficient for high demand levels when wind output is unusually low.” [ERCOT]
Declining supply capacity is noted in SERC Central, New England (NPCC), and NERC’s assessment notes heat could once again stress areas of the US west that rely on imports (a.k.a. Much of California). The concerns noted for Ontario from the key findings section of NERC’s summer reliability assessment:
Planned nuclear outage for refurbishment have reduced the electricity supply resources serving the province. Additionally, load growth is contributing to a constrained transmission network during high-demand conditions that may not be able to deliver sufficient supply to the Windsor-Essex area in the southwest part of the province. Additional generator outages or extreme demand can lead to reserve shortages and a need to seek non-firm imports. Ontario could potentially see a significant increase in reliance on imports this summer under both normal peak (50/50) and extreme (90/10) demand scenarios.
I hadn’t noted the “Windsor-Essex” comment before, which seems oddly out of place in the context of the NERC report. To understand how and why it appears, it’s important to note NERC gets the information for its reports from the entities it reports on. The information for Ontario is from Ontario’s Electricity System Operator (the IESO). A year ago there were reports the Windsor area was losing out with new industry due to a lack of electricity available in the region, which seem to have been substantial enough that this January the city’s council specifically endorsed the expansion of a local generator fueled with natural gas, despite having followed a crowd of Ontario councils in having declared a climate emergency and signed on to a campaign to phase-out natural gas. As NERC was preparing its summer assessment the IESO was signing a contract for another 100 MW of capacity from that East Windsor facility.

Crisis noted and action taken, all within months!

In the single page of the report specific to Ontario, the assessment correctly notes that, “Ontario has entered a period during which generation and transmission outages will be increasingly difficult to accommodate.” Not noted is over capacity had made that task of accommodating outages blissfully simple since 2008, at great expense to Ontario ratepayers - and/or taxpayers.

Capacity is expensive - especially excess capacity.
Risk Scenario Summary

Expected resources meet operating reserve requirements under normal peak-demand scenarios. Above-normal summer peak load or extreme outage conditions could result in the need to employ operating mitigations (i.e., demand response and non-firm transfers) and [Energy Emergency Alerts]. Load shedding may be needed under extreme peak demand and outage scenarios.
Only in the “severe low-likelihood” probabilistic assessment cases was any loss of load expected, and then the duration modeled was 18 minutes.

That’s the situation Toronto Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns alleges we were led to by the current government’s 5 years of, “cutting funding for efficiency and conservation, of demolishing wind farms and cancelling other renewable projects.” Although the situation is not dire, those comments deserve a response.

The accounts of the province of Ontario show around $6 billion a year supporting electricity costs through one program or another - the largest cost is the non-hydro renewables subsidy to pay for the high feed-in tariff contracts Tabuns supported, and the second largest is the Ontario Energy Rebate that simply reduces bills. Few things in the sector are as popular as efficiency and conservation, but wish arguing for spending on reducing consumption while spending to subsidize consumption is a level of ridiculousness most would avoid.

I realize the government is stepping up spending on efficiency and conservation programs - I’d prefer they only did so commensurate with reducing subsidies.

We can calculate how the cancellation of wind and solar projects by the current government of Premier Ford impacts this reliability assessment. The “demolished” wind “farm” was the 18.45 MW White Pines industrial wind facility forced upon the current Energy Minister’s riding, and I’ve estimated cancelled projects included 141 megawatts of wind capacity and 279 MW of solar. NERC’s summary shows the expected share of nameplate capacity in Ontario as 16% for wind and 26% for solar - so all of the cancelled wind and solar projects would have added less than 100 MW to the deemed ability to meet a 24,800 anticipated resource need.(including reserve levels).

100 MW from installations far and wide. The equivalent of expanding the one natural gas generator in Windsor - except with an added requirement for distribution and transmission wires to move production to load centres (currently lacking for Windsor).

It’s easy to see why the commentary is on nuclear outages with each refurbished reactor capable of producing over 800 MW. Ontario’s IESO produces an Annual Planning Outlook which is accompanied by data tables (xlsx) including a “Nuclear Refurbishment and Retirement Schedule”. That data, published around the start of this year, shows 5 units out of service this summer for refurbishment: Bruce units 3 and 6 along with Darlington units 1, 3 (ending early September), and 4 (beginning July 2nd). No other summer has this many outages planned, with 3 through 2026, then 2 until 2030 when only one reactor will still be undergoing refurbishment. This is why managing the refurbishment schedule is a much bigger issue than contracts cancelled during a time of excess production.

I am optimistic Darlington’s unit 3 will return to service prior to its unit 4 exiting service. The IESO may be lobbying for a delay to the commencement of unit 4’s refurbishment, but that could be unwise from a couple of perspectives: refurbishments have been ahead of schedule and under budget which is likely helped by avoiding late changes to scheduled work, and the government is currently anticipating Pickering Nuclear Generating Station wins agreement from the regulator to operate 4 reactors through the summer of 2026 - which would follow the return to service of Darlington 4 if the current schedule is maintained. A reduction in the already low risk of insufficient supply for peaks during the summer of 2023 might be ameliorated by increasing the risk in the summer of 2026 - but that seems a poor choice.

To better understand the impact of nuclear outages with a longer perspective, currently four reactors are undergoing refurbishment. Assuming 850 MW each, that 3,400 MW exceeds the capacity that will be lost from Pickering in 2026 - and if outages are limited to two reactors while Pickering units are either laid up for refurbishment or removed from service permanently, the change in capacity from what we have right now will be less than 1,400 MW - perhaps significantly less as Bruce Power continues to raise output levels from its 8 reactors and an aggressive target of 2028 is currently had for a 300 MW reactor to enter service on the Darlington site.

I opened this article with Tabuns claim that Ontario is, “the only province in Canada that is rated with elevated risk,” in the NERC 2023 summer reliability assessment, which is true - but not necessarily meaningful as the comparisons are not based on equal evaluations. NERC’s assessment relies on the input of the regional transmission organizations being assessed. Ontario’s IESO bases its calculations on an “expected share of nameplate [Capacity]” that is only 26% for solar - which is 14% lower than any other area. Alberta expects 65% of nameplate capacity to be produced for peaks from its solar panels. Alberta has experienced grid alerts in the past 12 months, unlike Ontario, and when one was issued last September solar was far from producing at 65% of nameplate - much closer to the 26% level Ontario uses.

In Ontario most solar capacity is not directly connected to the IESO-controlled grid (ICG), but “embedded” within distribution companies’ networks. This means that most solar generation reduces demand for power from the ICG, and with growth in solar, over more than a decade now, the IESO’s peak “Ontario Demand” (supply from the ICG), has been pushed later in the day, to hours after solar’s output peaks. Alberta is using 4 pm as the hour of its summer peak: Ontario is using a later hour. This is a difficult topic as there are two very different applications for using a capacity value (percent of nameplate capacity expected): in planning new resources to enter a system the value is for the specific new resource. For instance, in California the capacity of a new solar panel is nil, because existing solar panels have pushed the need for supply from other sources into the evening. This is not to say that the capacity value of the existing panels, which pushed that need into evening, is nil - but it is to say the capacity value declines as solar grows market share. Alberta’s system operator hasn’t accounted for that - and has issued grid alerts in the past year.

Ontario is the only province with an elevated risk, however slight, of not meeting demand this summer, but that can be due to Ontario’s system operator being more cautious in its assessments in order that it may be better prepared for adverse conditions.

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