By Michelle Stirling and Kent A. Zehr, P. Eng. © 2020
This op-ed rebuttal was submitted to the Calgary Herald but, to date, has not been published.
A recent op-ed of Sept. 10, 2020, in the Calgary Herald by a group of people with no expertise in power generation proposed that Alberta cities could stimulate jobs and economic recovery by simply signing Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for renewable energy. PPAs are contractual arrangements whereby you guarantee a profit to someone whether or not you need or want their product, which might also cost you money to dispose of when you cannot use it. The op-ed authors claim that by cities signing such PPAs this would then drive the construction of new renewable projects like wind or solar facilities. They claim this would produce jobs, give Alberta a ‘greener’ reputation, reduce air pollution, and stop climate change. They also claim that electric vehicles (EVs) will ‘soon’ have long-life batteries and thus EV owners could make money off their cars while parked, by selling power back to the grid and this would stabilize the power grid. They claimed since the renewables jobs are outdoors, any Coronavirus contact issues would be low.
There are several problems with the op-ed.
Renewables cost taxpayers money, lots of money, through direct and indirect subsidies and through the costs of grid integration. Alberta power generation experts have said it costs about $1 million/MW to integrate wind to the grid. Renewables require additional transmission lines. The line from Calgary to Pincher Creek wind farms cost $2.2 billion. So much for ‘free’ wind.
Wind and solar energy must be used in the moment it is created or if not needed locally, then it is ‘spilled’ to some other jurisdiction, often at below market rates. A parallel conventional fossil fuel power generation system must be in place and have ‘spinning reserves’ on standby to take over instantly when wind or solar drops off. This is typically done with natural gas combined-cycle plants that can ‘ramp up’ quickly to fill demand – or the entire grid can blackout.
People like to say Alberta is ideal for wind and solar, but it is problematic for both. The problem with wind is its randomness, wind is completely uncorrelated with demand. If the Alberta gov’t adds another 5,000 MW (as the NDP proposed) 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. They may end up having to put in simple cycle units instead which, from a carbon dioxide (CO2) perspective, would pretty much defeat the purpose of adding wind.
For solar, we are too far north. Any solar farm north of the 35 N latitude is an energy ‘sink’ – meaning it took more energy to produce the panel than it will return in its lifetime.
As for EVs as battery storage feeding the grid, this is fantasy. Alberta is particularly unsuited to EVs due to the temperature extremes. Battery life is short in extremely cold or hot weather. Likewise, EVs require additional infrastructure which is very expensive – not just the charging stations. Once there are more than a handful of EV’s on a block, the distribution lines and transformers must be upgraded; once there are more than a few hundred EVs in a city or town, the transmission and distribution lines must be upgraded.
Ironically, the only thing the public love to hate more than pipelines are… power lines.
Likewise, for the current federal EV policy, Alberta would have to create 16% more conventional power generation to meet the EV demands, or about 2,599 MW. That would be equal to about 3 more Shepard Energy Centre natural gas plants. Shepard cost $1.4 billion and took 7 years to build, with some prior years of planning. There is presently no such project on the drawing board for Alberta and overall, these projects need a 20-30-year horizon.
As for jobs, renewables typically create very short-term jobs for the construction phase and limited maintenance jobs after that. Where renewables DO create jobs is overseas – mostly in China – where pollution is rampant, few health and safety regulations exist, the environment is treated like a garbage can, the air like a sewer, and reclamation is virtually unheard of.
The authors of the article claim renewables would offset our ‘huge’ global greenhouse gas footprint – which is comical since China emits in one month (819 Mt/month) about what Canada emits in one and a half years.
The op-ed authors say wind and solar are ‘clean’ – but wind turbines create huge wakes of suspended particulates which, for many people, drive asthma and other respiratory conditions. Likewise, wind farms close to residences create many health hazards and reduce property values. Solar panels are made of toxic ingredients and there is no way to recycle them.
Unlike oil, natural gas and coal, which are market commodities that Alberta can sell for profit internationally, which are portable, storable forms of energy, which are energy dense, which have vast product streams that create millions of by products and jobs, and which drive global economies, wind and solar have no inherent value-added qualities. Canadians and Albertans need to earn more money, not pay more taxes!
Wind and solar run on subsidies. At a time like this, no one can afford to ‘go green’…and no one should continue the charade that there is anything ‘green or clean’ about wind and solar devices. They are mined and made under the worst human rights and environmental conditions, they are unrecyclable, and for wind, the turbines are death to bats and rare raptors. Wind and solar offer only broken promises, empty pockets, and empty wallets.
Michelle Stirling is Communications Manager for Friends of Science Society and a member of the CAJ and AAAS. Kent A. Zehr, P. Eng, is an independent consultant and author of papers posted on SSRN deconstructing myths about renewables.