Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lawrence Solomon: Are you frying your eggs at 4 a.m. yet?

Instead of retooling the technology, retool the people

By Lawrence Solomon

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is under fire for forcing smart meters onto the province’s electricity customers.

The meters make no economic sense for consumers, critics point out, costing consumers far more than can ever be offset through lower power bills.

The meters, in fact, make perfect sense when understood from Mr. McGuinty’s viewpoint, despite a total price tag estimated to run as high as $10-billion.

Mr. McGuinty isn’t in this for the money — if he was, he wouldn’t be closing economical coal plants while sinking cash into money-losing ­nuclear plants and money-losing long-distance transmission lines to carry power from money-losing industrial wind farms. These and his other money-losing initiatives will cause Ontario’s power prices to double or triple should he get his way.

No, Mr. McGuinty is in this to transform the province’s power system to make it coal free and reliant on nuclear and wind power. Money is no obstacle to him but Ontario citizens and businesses are, because they don’t behave as he’d like them to — and as his technologies of choice need them to behave.

Nuclear power, for example, is a technology that needs to run 24/7 for reasons of safety as well as economics. Nuclear can’t ramp up to meet the peak needs of Ontarians at, for example, 7 am, when people wake up and turn on their toasters, and nuclear can’t power down at 3 am, when most people are asleep and most factories lie idle.

This operating characteristic of nuclear power poses no problem for Mr. McGuinty during the day, when Ontarians consume all the nuclear power available to them. But it can be a problem big-time in the middle of the night when no one needs the excess power, not even customers in the United States, not even for free. To deal with Ontario’s unwanted nuclear surplus, the provincial power system at times even pays customers to take it off their hands — the more of this off-peak power they consume, the lower their power bills will be. At other times, the power system will spill water at hydroelectric facilities, rather than having them generate hydro power, in order to keep those nuclear reactors running.

Wind turbines create a similar off-peak problem for Mr. McGuinty. Like nuclear plants, power from wind turbines can’t be dispatched to ­customers when customers need it — the wind has a mind of its own. To make matters worse, the wind tends to blow best overnight, when it’s least needed.

Because Mr. McGuinty can’t retool his favoured technologies to get them to conform to the schedules of Ontarians, he has decided to retool Ontarians to get them to conform to the operating schedules of his technologies. This he is doing by punishing people and businesses who consume power at inconvenient times through high rates, to cajole them into shifting their usage to lower-cost off-peak periods.

So far, the punishment — a mere doubling of peak rates compared with off-peak — hasn’t been severe enough. Too few people are frying their eggs before 7 am — the time at which the punishment starts — and too many are cooking their dinners at 7 pm — smack dab during the peak punishment period. Mr. McGuinty’s solution? “We’ve got to make sure the differential between peak and off-peak is significant, so significant that it motivates people,” he explained this week.

By fiat, not by any rule of economics, Mr. McGuinty has decided that off-peak power users should be paying less, meaning that everyone else will necessarily need to pay more.

In this grand exercise to restructure the province’s power system, the Ontario citizen is a means to an end — making Ontario safe for nuclear and wind power.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.

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1 comment:

  1. Very good points made on rates. Dalton is just adjusting rates to deflect attention from HST and other increases. Regarding wind. Based on average weather patterns. The wind hardly blows at night and usually during the daylight hours only. The problem is when we have a non windy very cloudy day during the hot summer.


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