Wind Reduces Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Recent ads in the Peninsula Press by the anti wind crowd repeatedly state that wind energy does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Does this statement make any sense at all? After all, when wind turbines are producing power, then there is no need to produce that power from other sources. Do we keep on burning the coal and natural gas anyway, even when wind is supplying power?

So, I decided to do a bit of research on the issue, to determine the truth. I called Jack Gibbons, of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, an authority on how the Ontario electricity system operates, and on emissions from electricity. I told him what the anti wind crowd was saying – that wind energy did not result in reductions in CO2 emissions. He gave a full throttled belly laugh.

Now you have to know Jack to understand this. Jack is an intense, serious, sincere person, with an Economics background. He does not part with belly laughs easily. I think I made his day.

When he had recovered, and dried his eyes, he said, “Glen, fossil fuels, whether coal or natural gas, is almost always on the margin. Fossil is the resource that we shut down when we don’t need it. When electricity is coming from wind, then you burn less coal, or less natural gas.” It was quite simple to Jack.

But I figured I needed more proof. So I read the second quarter report from Ontario Power Generation (OPG). They own the majority of fossil generation in the province, and all of the coal generation. In the second quarter, they generated 1.8 TWh from fossil fuels, down from 5.5 TWh in the second quarter a year ago. That is a drop of 67%. “This decrease was primarily due to lower electricity demand in Ontario and an increase in electricity production from other Ontario generators.” So OPG knows that when other generators, including wind, are generating, they burn less coal and natural gas.

Next I went to the Ministry of Energy site. The province has announced the phaseout of Ontario’s coal plants by 2014, and is replacing this generation with the Bruce nuclear refurbishments, new natural gas, wind, and other renewable resources. “The impact of Ontario coal closure will reduce Ontario’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to 30 megatonnes”. That’s almost 5% of Canada’s emissions. “For the first 6 months of 2009, coal production was down by 51%, and wind generation was 80% higher than the same period in 2008.”

The site goes on to explain that 2 of the 8 Nanticoke coal fired units, and two of the 4 Lambton units will be shut down next year. That is 2000 MW of coal capacity that is being replaced by a mix of conservation, gas, wind, and other renewables. These units that are being shut down burn enough coal to fill the Rogers Centre 1.4 times over each year.

The site also had this quote: “With the closure of four more units at two coal plants, Ontario is taking an important step towards cleaning up the air we breathe. As physicians, we know that the pollution emitted by these plants can seriously affect our health and I’m pleased to see the government taking proactive measures to help protect Ontarians.”
- Dr. Suzanne Strasberg, President, Ontario Medical Association

Next I called a contact at the Independent Electricity System Operator. He too was surprised that anyone would claim that wind energy did not reduce our use of fossil fuels. He explained that while generators submit offers to generate in the day ahead, they are dispatched as close as only one hour ahead. He pointed out that coal fired generators can ramp up and down fairly quickly if they are running at a certain base level, as can natural gas, and that there are almost always one or the other of these running. He also pointed out that we can dispatch some of our waterpower facilities. If the wind is blowing at night, we can store water behind the dam, for use in peak periods, again allowing us to burn less fossil fuel. And if you burn less fuel, you will have less emissions. Wind energy, he said, definitely reduces fossil fuel use, and carbon emissions.

To state it bluntly, the claim that wind energy does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions is just wrong. Systems Operators know that. The Ministry of Energy knows that. OPG knows that. The Clean Air Alliance knows that. And common sense knows that.

If we are going to have a discussion on wind energy, let’s base that discussion on facts.

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