Tag Archives: wind

My quick review of Ontario’s much anticipated FIT Review

Snipped this map from the Ontario Power Authority’s two-year FIT program review. Here are some key takeaways from the review:

  • Solar prices are coming down, and in some cases way down. Small rooftop and ground-mount installs (under 10 kw) will see the FIT rates fall roughly 31 per cent . Large ground-mount systems of 500 kilowatts or higher will see rates fall by 21 per cent.
  • Wind of all sizes will see rates drop by about 15 per cent.
  • Other renewables, such as hydro, biomass and biogas, will remain the same.
  • Going forward, FIT prices will be set when contract is offered, not at time of application.
  • It’s being recommended that the government review supply and demand at end of 2013 and consider rising its green energy targets.
  • Up to 50 megawatts of contract capacity is being reserved for hydroelectric.
  • FIT rate reviews and adjustments will now take place annually.
  • Regulatory approvals are being streamlined in some areas.
  • Projects with a minimum of 15 per cent equity participation from aboriginal groups or communities will get extra points that give them priority in the queue. More points go to projects that have municipal or aboriginal council support.
  • 10 per cent of remaining FIT contract capacity will get set aside for projects that have a minimum of 50 per cent community or aboriginal ownership.
  • It looks like programs that offer supportive funding for community and aboriginal projects, such as the Community Power Fund, will get a boost based on recommendations from fund manager and program administrator.

A lot of coverage of this is making it seem like the government is reacting to rural protest against wind and solar farms, and unfounded public concerns about higher energy costs due to green energy. This is partly true, such as with the move to give communities more say, to encourage greater community participation, and to set aside capacity for projects with community ownership. These are all good moves. But the reduction in solar and wind prices, that was all to be expected. This is how FIT programs work — prices are supposed to come down over time. Even for solar, many in the industry seemed prepared to accept a reduction of around 25 per cent to reflect lower technology costs. The 15 per cent reduction for wind is also fair, in my view. My own opinion, however, is that large-scale solar should have seen greater reductions, and small rooftop rates should have seen lower reductions. MicroFIT solar installations, taken together, are still so small that they barely register in the overall price mix. Large solar projects benefit from economies of scale, do have a much greater impact on electricity prices, and should have taken a slightly larger rate haircut.  There’s also the fact that small rooftop projects aren’t controversial and make it possible for more citizens to participate in Ontario’s energy future.

What I didn’t see in this review was a much-needed call to accelerate transmission build-out and upgrade distribution systems with an eye to modernizing our electricity system — i.e. building a smart grid that makes the system more efficient and can accommodate more renewables. This entire area, in my view, has been neglected. There was also no talk of creating FITs for geothermal heating/cooling and solar thermal, and no talk of moving larger projects — particularly large wind projects, of say 20 megawatts or more — to the RFP model we used to use. Also, no talk of trying to work energy storage into the mix. At the moment, the FIT program discourages experimentation with solar because wind and solar producers aren’t penalized for producing energy during off-peak times when we don’t need it. The failure to come up with a FIT rate that differentiates between peak and off-peak times won’t lead to the kind of innovation we need.

One small note: It was good to see that domestic content rules are being created for concentrated solar thermal technology. The absence of these rules has made it difficult for Toronto-based Morgan Solar to participate in the FIT program.

Hudak’s energy strategy: throw baby out with bath water

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has vowed to kill the province’s feed-in-tariff program on the grounds that, in his view, it is leading to unacceptably high electricity costs for consumers. But when all is considered the problem, as he describes it, isn’t really with the FIT at all: it’s about FIT rates for solar PV. Take solar out of the equation and the FIT rates are quite reasonable, at least when compared to nuclear power, which is Hudak’s own half-baked solution to Ontario’s future electricity needs.

Beyond the propoganda of the nuclear industry, I haven’t seen a single credible study that calculates the cost of (new) nuclear to ratepayers below 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. Indeed, there are many reports that suggest nuke power is above 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, particularly when you choose to not hide the hidden costs and subsidies. This makes wind power, landfill gas systems, waterpower and even some large biogas systems competitive with nuclear on a kilowatt-hour basis. And, of course, under the FIT we’re not held hostage to delays or cost overruns like we have been in the past with nuclear. You pay for what you get under the FIT. No risk, no large single points of failure, no risk of meltdown, no worries about handling future radioactive waste, and very high price transparency.

Now, Hudak would have Ontario voters believe that the rate we pay today is what we should expect to pay for future generation. I don’t believe this is a naive belief on Hudak’s part; I believe it’s to intentionally mislead. Fact is, there isn’t a single form of clean (or dirty) generation that can be built new today that isn’t more expensive than the 6 or 7 cents per kilowatt-hour that Hudak (and most media, for that matter) recklessly bandies about. Now, could we get wind generation cheaper through a competitive process? Yeah, we could maybe carve a couple of cents off the FIT rate. But the FIT was intentionally designed to lower barriers to market access — to open up the market beyond the big, deep-pocketed corporate giants who can afford the upfront millions required to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) and, after participating in such a process, can afford to walk away empty handed. The province created the FIT to encourage community participation, and to stimulate the kind of growth that would attract manufacturing and jobs — and it has, despite a few spineless moments and missteps from the Liberal government.

 Now, on to solar. Hudak and his legion of backers, including National Post columnist Parker Gallant (who has somehow managed to turn his column into an official soap box for the Ontario PCs — hell, he even hands over fresh quotes for Hudak’s press releases now), always point to solar prices when talking about the FIT. After all, it’s easier to anger voters by saying generally that we’re paying 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour under the FIT and that this is 10 times more than the wholesale market rate for electricity. Wow — 10 times more! Crazy. But the comparison shouldn’t be to the wholesale market rate, and the rate itself is far from representative of the FIT program pricing. That scary 80.2 cents, which will soon be lowered, is for less than 1 per cent of FIT contracts when measured on a megawatt-hour contribution basis. Also, that money doesn’t go to big corporate conglomerates intent on vacuuming money out of Ontario. It goes to farmers and homeowners who are taking risks to become participants in the electricity system. The thousands of people taking part are literally changing the energy landscape in Ontario and they’re creating local jobs. You can see it just driving around this province. Put into perspective, the premium being paid to them is more than worth what the province is getting back. Hudak, however, would prefer to demonize them to score votes.

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — big solar. Big, multimegawatt solar projects are getting 44.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. But unlike the small solar rooftop systems, these larger systems will collectively have an impact on electricty rates over the coming years. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that it is because of these large systems that a lot of manufacturing has shifted to Ontario. Still, it’s a lot of solar and a lot to pay, and this is in my view the Achilles heal of Ontario’s FIT program. If there are going to be changes to the program, the most dramatic changes have to come here, but it has to be done in a way that balances the need to nurture an emerging industry and the interests of ratepayers. The answer, in my view, is to embrace a competitive bidding process for these large-scale projects and set caps (targets?) on the amount of big solar we want in Ontario by 2015, 2020 and 2025.

But Hudak isn’t thinking or talking that way. He wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, and in doing so kill investor confidence in the Ontario market, kill green jobs and build new nuclear plants that we’ll have to start paying for 10 years before the first kilowatt-hour is generated. His approach is reckless at a time when Ontario needs surgical, not blunt force, solutions. He’s being destructive at a time when Ontarians want our politicians to be constructive.

On a final note, let’s keep in mind that we don’t have to choose nuclear over renewables or vice versa. While building new nuclear plants may be an unwise decision economically, there is plenty of job creation to come from reburishing or extending the life of Ontario’s existing nuclear fleet — even if we retire a couple of plants, such as Pickering. Indeed, OPG and Bruce Power have expressed concerns about doing these refurbishments and building new because of the limited labour pool and the logistical nightmare of taking so much on in such a tight window. So, the message here is you can continue to aggressively build green energy and capture the associated jobs while keeping folks in our nuclear industry gainfully employed for the next 10 years, simply following through on an existing refurbishment schedule. Talk of building new nukes is a distraction — there will be opportunities in both sectors, and plenty of jobs to go around. We don’t have to choose one over the other.

Modifying wind turbines so they kill fewer bats… it can — and is — being done

My Clean Break column today takes a look at the importance of bats when it comes to agriculture and how bat populations, under threat by white nose syndrome and wind turbines, are getting some help by the Electric Power Research Institute. EPRI researchers have designed a system that can detect a bat’s echolocation call and adjust the operation of a wind turbine to reduce its potential for harm. The researchers have run the models and done preliminary ground tests, and are close to demonstrating the system on the nacelle of a GE wind turbine. The ultimate goal is to have the detection system a common, build-in feature of wind turbines, completely integrated into the turbine’s control system. It’s just the latest example of how innovative thinking is addressing some of the problems associated with wind energy. Siemens and Vestas are watching the research closely.

Continental first: Ontario proposes ambitious feed-in tariffs for wind, solar, biogas/biomass and hydro

Click here for release.

Highlights:

  • 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for rooftop solar.
  • 19 cents for offshore wind of any size (first jurisdiction in N.A. to set price)
  • 13.5 cents for onshore wind of any size
  • 14.7 for biogas under 5 MW.
  • 44.3 cents for 10-MW-plus solar, sliding to 71.3 cents as projects scale down to 10 kilowatts.

The government will commence eight-week consultation process and expects to have the prices in effect this summer. More to come….

UPDATE: Here’s an article I just filed to the Toronto Star’s Web site. It contains more info regarding the proposed tariffs. Ontario introduced basic feed-in tariffs two years ago under its standard offer program, but project size was capped at 10 megawatts. The new advanced feed-in tariff program lifts the cap (though solar is still capped at 10 megawatts). It also offers higher prices for smaller projects, such as community-based wind and solar projects or residential solar. Most groups seem happy with the pricing with the exception of large solar developers, who despite getting a 2-cent increase to 44 cents per kilowatt-hour still argue it’s not enough to make projects economical (especially if you factor in poor Canadian-U.S. exchange rate and persistently tight credit markets).

Of course it remains to be seen whether this new feed-in tariff structure, despite being generous and being first on the continent, will be enough to attract investment, development, manufacturing and jobs. Curious to hear viewpoints on this.  Michigan introduced a bill last year that proposed similar advanced tariffs but it never got passed. Hawaii has proposed less ambitious tariffs, but Ontario’s will be first to go into effect and will be the most ambitious to date.

WhalePower test confirms 20 per cent improvement in annualized energy production


I meant to report this earlier but got sidetracked. Toronto-based WhalePower, maker of the tubercle-lined turbine blades inspired by humpback whale flippers, got the results back from its first independent study in the field. The blade design was tested on a 25-kilowatt Wenvor Technologies turbine at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada. The institude found that annualized energy production from the retrofitted blade increased by an estimated 20 per cent. You can find the data here and analysis here. “Rated power was attained at 12.5 metres per second versus the 15 meters per second previously published performance for the unmodified Wenvor turbine. (Caveat: it’s an estimate because the test of the retrofitted blade followed International Electro-Technical Commission standards, while the benchmark data did not). “An improvement of just 1 or 2 per cent in AEP is significant,” said Stephen Dewar, WhalePower’s director of R&D. “Here we have about 20 per cent with low noise. We’re thrilled by this result.”

The next step, I imagine, is to perform a more comprehensive apples-to-apples test on a larger turbine. Hopefully these results will help the company raise the capital it needs to take its testing to the next level. Perhaps at some point it will begin catching the attention of some of the bigger wind-energy players.