Why wind makes no sense for Alberta

Those of us old enough to have lived through a few major recessions take to heart the old saying, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That old saw still has plenty of teeth because it’s based on common sense. It advises that it is foolish to spend money fixing something that is doing the job.

Common sense, however, is in short supply in most government circles and Alberta is no exception.

Take the province’s plans to decommission coal-fired electrical plants by 2030, for example.

It’s being sold as the way to do our part to help the environment by reducing CO2 emissions and getting in on the green technology that is going to power the future.

What’s not to like, eh?

A lot of things actually.

There’s the fact that our emissions of CO2 really don’t amount to very much. Canada as a whole accounts for less than two per cent of global emissions. So anything we do is for show. If the entire country and all its inhabitants vanished tomorrow, nothing much would change. China, India, the United States would go on merrily emitting the vast majority of CO2 that humans produce.

Then there are the practical considerations. The provincial government wants renewable energy to eventually become 30 per cent of total capacity.

Let’s put that in perspective. Here’s a nice chart showing sources of electricity in the province:

ab_elecz_gen

As you can see, the vast majority of electricity is courtesy of coal, followed by natural gas.

Currently, Alberta has roughly 1.4 GW of wind-generated electricity it can tap. That’s capacity. The currently installed turbines do not deliver anywhere near that level of electricity.

Here’s a chart showing wind-generated electricity this past October.

wind

As you can see, wind-generated electricity is variable. Some days the turbines are spinning furiously and producing nearly 1.2 GW of electricity, but other days they produce nothing.

Now, that’s a problem. Peak demand is about 10.9 GW, so even if you had an installed capacity of 6.2 GW (coal’s capacity), wind won’t come close to meeting that demand on the best days and it fails miserably on those days that there’s not a breath of air.

What that means is the planned 6 GW of wind turbines will need 6 GW of new natural gas electrical plants or we need to plan on buying electricity from neighboring provinces such as British Columbia.

There is no getting around that fact.

And that’s why renewable energy is so expensive. It is wholly dependent on fossil fuels.

Renewable energy only looks good in isolation. The cost of a single turbine at $2.5 million seems so reasonable. But you need 10 of them to get just 25 MW. You need 2,500 to replace coal fired plants. All of sudden the cost is exorbitant — $6.2 billion and you haven’t even added in transmission costs.

Is it any wonder power companies cried foul when the Rachel Notley government dropped this plan in their laps?

After all, Alberta has an oversupply of electricity right now. We have 16 GW of installed capacity and peak demand of 11 GW. Demand, too, is dropping. It dropped 247 MW year this year.

Now, anyone with even a little bit of common sense would not propose getting rid of 6 GW of affordable electricity and replacing it with 6 GW of expensive electricity that we don’t really need.

It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s the equivalent of junking your five year-old Chrysler mini-van and buying a brand new Ford Expedition. Yeah, it’s a sweet ride, but you’ll be paying for that mistake for eight years.

In this case, Albertans will be paying for the provincial government’s folly for the next two decades.

 

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