Wind Works

This has been a very difficult winter in Southern Ontario. I am missing an appointment today due to road closures. The energy grid has been stretched in some cases beyond breaking. The Toronto ice storm left people without power for more than a week. New Brunswick had similar problems. Newfoundland had brown outs and rotating blackouts, and a longer outage for some as they ran short of power due to equipment failure, and very high demand. Quebec Hydro asked people to curtail or delay consumption due to a strained electricity grid during one of the cold snaps. 4000 folks in Manitoba were without natural gas due to a pipeline explosion. Propane is in short supply in the US northeast, and Ontario and Quebec, and prices have risen by 25-50%. Natural gas wholesale prices tripled in parts of the US, including New York City, and has risen at the Henry Hub by 50% since a year ago. Natural gas in storage is 20% below a year ago, and 10% below the 5 year average.

With these energy challenges, how has Ontario wind turbine fleet performed?

As is often the case, bad winter weather often comes with big wind. And big wind produces more power. Wind has contributed more than 50% above average, with capacity factors averaging more than 50% so far in January. December was also strong. The peak production from large wind farms I saw was 2020 MW. And that doesn’t include small (<10 MW) wind farms which would increase that number by another 250 MW. That is enough to supply 10% of electricity demand on these high demand days.

This contribution takes pressure off the demand for natural gas, because natural gas is used extensively in electricity generation when demand is high. This reduces the price of natural gas below what it would have been, and because natural gas often sets the electricity price, it reduces the price of electricity as well. The reduction in gas demand helps to preserve supplies for heating. And of course with less gas demand, there is less need for the risks inherent in fracking, and less carbon emissions. The more wind installed, the greater the effect on gas prices.

Wind has proven its worth as a hedge against cold winters, and as a worthy diversification of electricity supply.

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