Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sierra Club cuddles up to coal

Some people never learn.

How does one of the country’s biggest environmental groups decide to partner with one of the country's biggest coal-burning utilities?
That isn't the question people familiar with the Sierra Club's history would ask. From a Time report
...between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
How do they decide to partner up?

Money, I presume.

not professional

"20 years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift" - Bob Dylan

Perhaps the ability to tolerate decades of formal education is the only thing a professional title indicates.

Recent stories that caught my attention include the heaving of the Nipigon River Bridge, the disinterest in recognizing management failures at Toronto Hydro, the intimidating behavior of the Attorney General of Vermont, the disinterest in the parameters of responsibility of Ontario's new Environmental Commissioner, and just because that annoyed me I'll add one more instance of lazy green economics.

I first commented on the split in the new Nipigon River Bridge on Facebook when it occurred. If you're not familiar with it, a very snazzy bridge was built on the one road across Canada, but it now appears it wasn't built for a Canadian winter. In one news story we made the farcical part of South Parks "follow the only road" song the lyric indicating the road is "to code". I wrote on the bridge again this past weekend, inspired by a letter to an editor that seemed to be written by an engineer, but not signed as a professional engineer.

Broken Bridge: Caring isn’t competence
image from the CBC
...it’s clear ascetics and a heavy weighting of environmental issues were significant contributors to the choice of a bridge design not tried in a similar environment in the past.
I think it’s equally clear that the concerns should be on the design, engineering standards and certification bodies, at least as equally as materials.

I find it particularly unsettling that Michael Hogan’s letter to the editor isn’t signed by Dr. Hogan (as it could be), with the professional engineer designation. It’s disconcerting if the letter writer is not an engineer, but it’s more disconcerting if engineers do not have a professional concern about engineers’ role in the failure of the only road allowing cross-country travel.
A professional engineer advised me part of becoming an engineer is sweating not to bad-mouth other engineers, which explains why the excellent letter to the editor wasn't signed, but could also explains why the search seems to be on for a scapegoat, more than a cause.

I understand the desire of the engineering body to handle things internally, but I think they need to figure out a better communication strategy - perhaps one including the announcement of a review.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eagles Win: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gives Up Fight for 30-Year Take Permits

“The eagle-killing rule was a bad idea from the day it was proposed”

In Victory for Eagles, USFWS Gives Up Fight for 30-Year Take Permits:
Graphic from Ontario Wind Resistance page
Eagles just scored a big victory in the courts. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped an appeal it was pursuing in support of 30-year “take” permits that allow wind farms and other industries to disturb and kill Bald and Golden Eagles, as long as they take steps to protect the raptors. The appeal was part of a legal battle over the agency’s 2013 move to extend the length of these take permits’ validity by 25 years. 
The 2013 rule extended five-year take permits, administered under 2009’s Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, to a maximum length of 30 years with periodic check-ins. But in 2015 a federal judge sent the rule back to the drawing board, saying that the agency had not assessed the possible environmental impacts of extending the permit length as required by law. 
The government initially appealed this court decision, but now has dropped its appeal. While USFWS did not provide a reason why they were dropping the appeal, the extended permit period has been met with substantial criticism. When it was first introduced, the proposal was criticized for allowing companies to self-report deaths and giving too much leeway to harm birds.
Read the entire article at audubon.org 

Somewhat related, I saw many accolades for a wonderful graphic developed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are electric cars and residential solar seriously green?

Some necessary cynicism about many things "green"

Ross McKitrick: The electric car is dead, executed by Al Gore and his environmental allies
As reported by Bloomberg news on Jan. 7, even as U.S. auto sales hit a record high in 2015, demand for electric vehicles fell by 17 per cent. Automakers are already taking losses on these vehicles, which they are forced to sell to comply with misguided government mandates. Despite the implicit subsidy, consumers can do the math and prefer the savings, convenience and reliability of ordinary gasoline-powered cars. 
So who engineered this calamity? I suggest (only a little tongue-in-cheek) that it was none other than Al Gore, along with his allies in the environmental movement. In the aftermath of Gore’s 2006 global warming doom-flick An Inconvenient Truth, and his massively-funded worldwide policy advocacy, governments around the world embraced renewables, especially wind and solar energy. Everywhere this has been tried, the result has been soaring electricity prices. You won’t get people into electric cars if they can’t afford to plug them in.
Read Ross McKitrick's entire column at the Financial Post.

Citing this cynicism is necessary as I live in Ontario: I've abandoned heating and cooking with electricity because it became far too punitive financially, and because there seems to be no foresight with electric vehicle proponents - specifically in terms of paying for the roads required for any vehicle to have utility.

From Georgia, U.S.A.,EV sales in Georgia plummet after tax credit repealed

Monday, January 18, 2016

A pure market's pricing problem

This story from Australia in interesting as it presents the challenge of a renewables heavy jurisdiction attempting to run a pure market - which necessitates generators that run infrequently recovering costs through very high rates when they do.

SA government in energy market crisis talks with industry, suppliers
The South Australian government is considering intervening in the National Electricity Market after its commitment to renewable energy has generated sharp spikes in power prices that threaten its economic development strategy.
South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis called a crisis meeting of energy users and suppliers today to deal with sharp rises and falls in wholesale electricity prices that threaten the redevelopment of a Port Pirie lead and zinc smelter to make metals for solar panels and mobile phones, even with a $291 million government subsidy.
The volatility in wholesale prices – caused mostly by the state's reliance on wind power and the ability of coal and gas power stations to charge high prices when the wind drops – is creating havoc for industry in the state, which is one of the country's most economically depressed.
South Australia has endured several episodes of sharply rising electricity prices, and prices for ancillary or grid-stabilising services, since July, with prices soaring above $2000/MWh and at times hitting the $13,800/MWh market limit.
Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/sa-government-in-energy-market-crisis-talks-with-industry-suppliers-20151214-gln55j#ixzz3xc8e4p4k 

Most jurisdictions find ways to get industry preferential pricing. One that does, via it's EEG mechanism, is Germany. While Germany's Energiewende is often reported as a world leader in growing renewables, the reality could be it's leading in something entirely different:

Bloomberg reports:
...clean energy investment in Germany dropped to its lowest level in a decade with USD 10.6 bn invested.
German reduction in small-scale PV FiT has led to lower rooftop solar build out
“The slump was mainly driven by a drop in small-scale solar investment and utility-scale wind investment,” comments BNEF Associate, Luke Mills.
“Reduction in the small-scale solar feed-in tariff (FiT) has led to lower rooftop solar build out. This, along with decreasing equipment prices, has impacted the total amount invested.”
“For wind, the current wind FiT does not work well with the current space constraints in Germany as projects in less windy areas are not adequately supported. Repowering has become an important role in the German market, but it has not taken off quite the way everyone had hoped due to planning regulations and restrictions.”
That report might not be entirely correct on repowering. AGEB shows Germany's wind output up a spectacular 50% in 2015, the highest  annual increase since 2002. However, solar showed its slowest growth since AGEB starting reporting on it. Overall the Bloomberg tracking of Germany's annual investment is likely a good indicator that some economic analysis has continued following the German Council of Energy Experts flagging the excessive costs in their 2011 annual report.

In case I missed it, one report worth reading from recent months was J.P. Morgan's A Brave New World: Deep De-Carbonization of Electricity Grids.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nuclear Ontario: Government approves Darlington refurbishment

“This morning when the sun rose, it brought with it a very good day. A good day for the residents of Clarington, for Pickering, a good day for the residents of Durham. As a matter of fact, a good day for all of Ontario with this announcement”
The quote is from Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster, of the host community for the Darlington nuclear generating station (NGS). 10,500

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) had already laid out many of the cost aspects in its financial reporting, and the big surprise on the day was probably re the other OPG nuclear generating station.

Ontario is moving forward with nuclear refurbishment at Darlington Generating Station, securing 3,500 megawatts of affordable, reliable, and emission free power.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is on track to begin refurbishment of the first unit at Darlington in October 2016. To best protect Ontario ratepayers and ensure OPG delivers refurbishment on-time and on-budget, the government has established off-ramps that require OPG to obtain government approval prior to proceeding with each of the remaining unit refurbishments. The budget for the project is $12.8 billion, about $1.2 billion less than originally projected by OPG, and all four units are scheduled for completion by 2026. 
The Province has also approved OPG's plan to pursue continued operation of the Pickering Generating Station beyond 2020 up to 2024
The average cost of power from Darlington nuclear units post-refurbishment is estimated to range between $72/MWh and $81 MWh, or 7 and 8 cents per kilowatt hour.
The Pickering NGS news took me a little by surprise. OPG's news release added detail:
OPG will work with the Ministry of Energy, the Independent Electricity System Operator and the [Ontario Energy Board] to pursue continued operation of the Pickering Station to 2024. All six units would operate until 2022; two units would then shut down and four units would operate to 2024. Extending Pickering’s operation would ensure a reliable, clean source of base load electricity during the Darlington and initial Bruce refurbishments.
The Bruce NGS refurbishment was announced a little over a month ago.
Bruce and Darlington NGS have a combined capacity of ~10,500 megawatts, and complete refurbishments of both locations would allow nuclear to remain the dominant form of generation in the province for another 4 decades.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

consumers get a hero: Niagara On-The-Lake Hydro Board challenges Minister of Energy to Debate

Stories of courage in servicing consumers are rare in Ontario's electricity sector.
The following is the entirety of a news release from Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro Inc. (NOTL)

Shrewd observers may realize, at the end, they local distribution company (LDC) delivers power to it's typical customer far more economically than many Ontario LDC's.
It is clear why - perhaps consumers of other LDC's should send this to their LDC and the Ontario Energy Board to ask why NOTL is not one of many organizations publicly challenging the Energy Minister.

December 09, 2015 06:00 ET

NOTL Hydro Board challenges Minister of Energy to Debate

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro Provides 11 Recommendations on Reducing the Cost of Electricity

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ON--(Marketwired - December 09, 2015) - The Board of Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro would like to invite and challenge the Minister of Energy to a public debate on the historical, present and future plans on how to get the cost of electricity down and more manageable for the average consumer. Discussions and input from all interested parties are welcome.

The recently released Report of the Ontario Auditor General (AG report) has highlighted significant mismanagement of the electricity industry in Ontario that has substantially increased the cost of electricity to our customers. To reduce the current and future cost of electricity, it is clear that immediate and drastic actions are required.

As a local electricity distribution company, Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro deals directly with the electricity consumer and sees the challenges the high prices are causing. Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro therefore recommends the following immediate actions to assist our customers.
  1. Immediately cancel the FIT and MicroFIT programs and immediately cease signing any new contracts. We cannot afford any more above market costs to be built into future pricing.
  2. Calculate and transfer the present value of the excess pricing in the existing FIT and MicroFIT contracts to the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation (OEFC) in a manner similar to that done with Ontario Hydro and the Non-Utility Generation contracts at the time of the market opening. This would remove these costs from the current pricing.
  3. Re-instate the Debt Retirement Charge for residential customers. It was never right just to eliminate this for residential and not business customers. This charge will be needed to pay down the above excess pricing cost (Recommendation #2) for years and decades to come. Annual transparent reporting from the OEFC will be required to show how this new debt is being paid down.
  4. Stop all provincial Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) programs. This will save $300 million per year per the AG report. CDM Is not needed in a surplus environment and consumers will undertake their own CDM activities based on market prices.
  5. Review the pricing of exports. While we have no experience in this area other experts have suggested that better prices could be obtained on the excess generation we are forced to export through more pro-active management of this activity.
  6. Eliminate the Meter Data Management and Repository (MDM/R). This is a redundant service whose cost is part of the Wholesale Market Service Rate on the customer bill. Local distribution companies get the needed information elsewhere.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nuclear Ontario: province contracts Bruce Power through 2064

Bruce Power and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) have entered into an amended, long-term agreement to secure 6,300 megawatts of electricity from the Bruce Power site, through a multi-year investment program.
In 2005, Bruce Power entered into the Bruce Power Refurbishment Implementation Agreement (BPRIA) to enable the restart of Bruce Units 1 and 2, to return the site to its full operating capacity of eight units. The amended agreement entered into today will enable the company to progress with a series of incremental life-extension investments, including refurbishment, to secure a clean, reliable and affordable source of electricity for Ontario families and businesses for decades to come, as outlined in Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP).
That begins Bruce Power's release on the agreement.
Transcanada Corporation, owner of nearly half of Bruce Power, has also issued an informative news release.

In April I'd written on the pace of the negotiations, and some issues related to refurbishment scheduling. This agreement, it seems to me, recognizes the value of Bruce Power's initiatives in extending the pre-refurbishment life of the reactors.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Better Electricity Reporting includes distributed solar

A big report is out in Ontario today, and a post by the American Energy Information Administration (EIA) deals with one point I'd like to discuss from it.

The Ontario Report is the Annual Report from the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario (the Auditor's report), and the chapter of primary interest to me was Section 3.05: Electricity Power System Planning. I think the report is fine - a few things I could argue about over pints with friends, but it's a very solid report.

I was reminded, by reading it, of astute articles from the people I've come to respect a great deal; some of which I've taking liberally from in my writing. One case in point is a graphic in the Auditor's report and one I'd created for a report by stealing Bruce Sharp's methodology:

The figure on the left is from the Auditor's report; the one on the right from my Better Reporting of Ontario's Electricity Generation. If you're not impressed (I am) maybe you are unaware that on the IESO's website they report solar generation of 0.0185 TWh for 2014, so estimating 1.7 TWh was not bad.
What's interesting is in the Auditor's report the source cited is the IESO!

I've been preaching reporting on distribution connected generation is desperately lacking in Ontario, so I have mixed feelings seeing the IESO has finally provided some figures at least this once.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ON releasing stored energy

The IESO, officially the operator of Ontario's electricity system, has announced the contracting of nine energy storage projects.
"Storage technology remains one of the most innovative and exciting aspects of our energy policy, particularly because of the incredible potential it presents. It will help strengthen our system and improve service to electricity consumers," said Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy. "Our government is proud to see the leadership of these five Ontario companies as they move forward to create good jobs and invest in their local economies."
"The energy storage market is maturing," said Bruce Campbell, President and CEO of the IESO. "Now that we have completed our two-phase procurement process for a total of 50 MW of new energy storage in Ontario, we look forward to having these facilities up and running. These projects will help us better understand how energy storage technologies can support the operation of the grid by providing much needed quick response and operational flexibility."
There is a reason I no longer treat "IESO" as an acronym - there's functionally no "I" and whatever the "ESO" is, it isn't the body's original MO.

The IESO press release does provide a rationale for the contracts:
This latest set of contracts... is focused on the capacity value – the ability to be available to store energy and provide it back when called upon – and the arbitrage value – the ability to store energy during periods of lower prices and inject it back into the electricity system when prices rise – of energy storage.
Bruce Sharp, probably the province's best cost analyst, did some math in a comment on the IESO's Linkedin page: