Pembina Institute Invented Alternative Facts on Renewable Energy’s Impact on Global Warming

Opinion – By Michelle Stirling © Feb. 24, 2017

In a National Newswatch op-ed of Feb. 21, 2017, Ed Whittingham of Pembina Institute attacks Dr. Jack Mintz, claiming Mintz was “discrediting” Canada’s emerging climate plan with “alternative facts” related to Alberta’s coal phase-out and predicted rising power utility costs.  Whittingham claims Germany is going off coal. The US EIA shows Germany is predominantly driven by 44% coal power, 10% natural gas and 15% nuclear. Much of Germany’s wind and solar production is exported, with surges often causing grid problems and blackouts in neighbouring countries.

Whittingham decries the unnamed “utility experts” Mintz refers to in his Feb. 15, 2017 Financial Post column. Power generation experts abound in Alberta and they support Mintz’ views. Here are some names for Ed. #names4Ed

One is Dean Rosehart of the University of Calgary who hosted a 2015 Distinguished Speaker event on Alberta’s deregulated power system. Any of the panelists could have informed Dr. Mintz. Maybe he was even there!

In 2014, we asked one of those panelists, Evan Bahry, Executive Director of the Independent Power Producers Society of Alberta (representing all forms of power generation), what it would cost to phase-out coal.  He told us in an email, permitting us to quote him verbatim, that it would require the equivalent of eight natural gas plants of 800 MegaWatt capacity to replace the power of the existing Alberta coal fleet.  Using the new Shepard Energy Center as a benchmark, built at a cost of $1.4 billion, it would be about > $11 billion – a replacement price that ultimately consumers will pay.  On top of that, he would not venture a guess as to the compensation to coal industry and investors for early phase-out – only saying it would come up to “many billions.”

Gary Reynolds, former CEO of the Balancing Pool, who is frequently cited in the press, helped enlighten us on compensation costs for stranded assets and what subsidies would have to be paid to wind and solar to make it attractive for them to enter the market. He anticipated a $35/kWh rate – or about $900 million a year.  In 2012, Morrison Park Advisors noted in a report to the Market Surveillance Authority of Alberta, posted on their website, that there was no interest in wind/solar investments in Alberta because power prices were too low.

A recent report “Potential Impacts on the AB Electricity Market of Policy Implementation Choices for the Climate Leadership Plan” and public speaking events by Duane Reid-Carlson of EDC Consultants shows it will cost billions more than the Alberta government is saying it will cost to phase-out coal and implement wind and solar.  Billions must be spent for transmission lines and integration for intermittent wind and solar – for very little energy return on energy invested.  Prof. Michael J. Kelly, engineering professor at Cambridge, recently published a paper entitled “Lessons from Technology Development for Energy and Sustainability” showing that wind and solar energy return is so low that it cannot even provide sufficient energy for a basic society that has education, let alone one that revels in high culture and air travel

So – experts abound.  Whittingham is firing blanks.

Pembina’s Whittingham claims that humans can reduce rising global temperatures, it just might cost you to do so.  The Pembina crew claimed that back in 2002 when our soon-to-be scientific advisers debated Kyoto with Pembina representatives in the journal of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geosciences of Alberta.  Our scientific advisers said it was the sun that directly and indirectly drove climate change and warming/cooling cycles.  Pembina claimed that the IPCC had a consensus that it was human emissions.

Now, some 15 years later we find that, excepting a couple of naturally-caused El Nino’s, there has been no statistically significant global warming despite all dire predictions and despite a significant rise in carbon dioxide concentration. Warming has simply not matched the theory.  Of course, the World Meteorological Organization did claim it was the ‘hottest year ever.’ If you take their margin of error of 0.1°C it means that the temperature could have been +0.12°C (global warming) or -0.08°C (cooling).

And what of renewables saving the planet? Well, here is where Pembina’s alternative facts come in. Environmental activist Robert Kennedy’s quote says it best in Energy Post of April 7, 2016 – when you install wind and solar you are really just building a natural gas plant. One natural gas plant like Shepard for $1.4 billion will put out 800 megawatts of power  almost 24/7. In Alberta, just the transmission line to southern wind farms cost $2.2 billion. For that we only get ~7% of our power….only when the wind blows just right.

Ontario Professional Engineers have reported that carbon dioxide emissions will rise if you add wind and solar to the grid because they must be backed up by natural gas plants. Only natural gas peaking plants are nimble enough to match Mother Nature’s dips and surges, but matching her whims creates more emissions.

How so?

Alberta power generation experts explained to us that the problem with wind is its randomness, wind is completely uncorrelated with demand. If the Alberta government adds another 5,000 MW then the total wind capacity* would be ~6,500 MW. Typically, this amount of wind would randomly experience 80% or higher ramps one or more times per week. This would be the equivalent of ramping 6.5 Shepard natural gas plants from off to full to off again. These plants are unable to do this over the long term. Thus, power operators may end up having to put in simple cycle units instead which, from a CO2 perspective, would defeat the alleged CO2-reduction purpose of adding wind.

If Pembina believes carbon dioxide from human industry drives global warming, why do they push wind and solar? Obviously for the subsidies or Renewable Energy Certificates – these enrich green crony capitalists at the expense of the poor and middle class, and do nothing for climate change or environmental benefits.

Further, as Warren Kindzierski, Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta revealed in his peer-reviewed work and in a recent Financial Post op-ed, there is no air quality issue in Alberta related to coal-fired power plants as claimed by Pembina Institute and its acolytes. His research is supported by Alberta Health Services statistics, Alberta Air Quality data and numerous other peer-reviewed studies on related health/air quality issues.

Our several reports, like “A Costly Misdiagnosis,”  “Burning Questions,” “Alberta Climate Plan and Carbon Tax – A Burden with No Benefit,” and “Dire Consequences” are filled with peer-reviewed references showing that Pembina is just wrong on coal-health claims and costs of coal phase-out and the climate plan.

Whittingham and Pembina Institute are the ones promoting alternative facts – their costly misdiagnosis not supported by the evidence.

Someone should ask why we are adopting their discredited policies.

“Lessons from Technology Development for Energy and Sustainability”


  1. Jeffery Green

    Here is a plan to make Germany 100% renewable energy. Going 100% renewable energy improves our health, brings down the cost of energy, promotes energy efficiency and hires more people than the fossil fuel industry. All the way around, renewable energy is the best thing for society there is.

  2. Jeffery Green

    80% is possible by 2050. How to do it just isn’t that hard.

    Key Findings
    Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.
    Increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply and demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.
    The abundance and diversity of U.S. renewable energy resources can support multiple combinations of renewable technologies that result in deep reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
    The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios. Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies is the most impactful lever for reducing this incremental cost.

  3. Jeffery Green

    Don’t need fossil fuels. It can all be done with balance of geographical distribution, renewable energy sources, and storage.

    Tesla boss and prolific tweeter Elon Musk has made an audacious bet to solve South Australia’s energy woes by building a 100-megawatt battery storage farm. If the system is not operational in 100 days, the AUD$33 million (USD$25 million) technology will be provided for free.

    Musk replied with an actual figure—$250 per kilowatt-hour for 100MWh systems—noting that Tesla is being more transparent about the prices of its products.

    • catweazle666


      • Jeffery Green

        Elon Musk has this fearless confidence that he can do it or its free. Utility grade storage is big when running a grid. This allows fossil fuels to burned less and use more of renewable energy when it is peaking.

  4. Duane Pendergast

    Very well informed and thoughtful opinion Michelle. Thanks!

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