Monday, September 30, 2013

Stories from the web, fakes in the MSM: professionalism, and its opposite

Some recent stories that deserve connecting; including news from sources on the web, and fake news in Toronto's most popular newspaper.

The most important story, in terms of the themes I write on most often, reported on the devaluation of existing generators with the introduction of new capacity

Challenging Power Market Hurting Plant Valuations | Power Magazine
Pressures on competitive power markets have fueled substantial declines in plant valuations over the past five years, with coal plants taking the brunt of the damage. That’s the conclusion of a new report from financial services firm Fitch Ratings released on Wednesday.
Gas-fired plants, both combined cycle and combustion turbine, saw comparatively smaller declines, 17% and 14%, respectively. Spark spreads have narrowed in most regions despite the fall in gas prices. However, there was a wide disparity in plant valuations in gas, with some plants—the newest and most flexible, in areas where substantial renewable generation places a premium on flexibility—actually increasing in value.
The smallest drop was in renewables, where hydropower assets saw a negligible 1% drop, and wind assets fell only 5% (the geothermal plants analyzed by the report fell 47%, but this represented only a handful of assets).
The article is important as a source of news; but I think the conclusions drawn from the facts could be better.  Subsidizing intermittent sources during a period of stagnant demand lowers the valuation of other generating assets; less so if the sources are dispatchable, so mostly devaluing high-capital cost sources with low operating costs, which include not only the frequently cited nuclear, but large hydro and geothermal too.

Speaking of geothermal...

Tom Adams posted Part 6 of his series springing from government documents showing a deliberate use of former Toronto Star writer Tyler Hamilton.
Corrupt Electricity Reporting Part 6: Toronto Star’s Editorial Dilemma
The Star’s “Newsroom Policy and Journalistic Standards Guide“ (Standards Guide), is clear about the ethical significance of conflicts of interest as they apply to journalists writing about particular subjects. Here are the rules that apply to Mr. Hamilton’s above noted conflicts of interest.
“It is not proper for journalists to be both actors and critics.”
I'm a big fan of Mr. Adams but I think this is questionable pursuit on two counts; one of which being the Star is quite happy to disguise advertising as journalism.
The other is I never would have referred to Hamilton as a journalist.  Earlier this month his blog was cheerleading for funding geothermal, including this quote from the geothermal lobby:
“The government won’t give more until industry gives more matching dollars. But the industry can’t start until the government provides geothermal energy with the same platform as it has for wind, solar, biomass, run of river, not to mention what it has historically given and still gives to the carbon-based fuel industry and nuclear industry.”
It doesn't strike me as serious to demand equal teat time for baseload sources and vRES (variable renewable energy sources) - or as the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) recently called them, "displacement" sources" ... the two don't play well together.
A journalist might note that type of thing (aka. the other side of the story).

However, Hamilton's absence from the Star is inconsequential - they've just continued with outsourcing to the point of selling inserts instead of reporting, as demonstrated in today's “Energy Planning & Logistics” | Media Planet (placed in the Toronto Star) insert, which includes promotional material for seemingly every other "renewable" possibility.

Let's start with Ontario's grandfatherly (if your grandfather is extraordinarily dishonest), Minister of Energy:
Ontario’s green energy strategy has attracted private sector investment that has helped create over 31,000 jobs and attracted over $24 billion in investment. The strategy has also fostered a culture of energy conservation, which has resulted in $4 billion in avoided system costs.
This statement is false - if you don't believe me and you are in Ontario, just wait for your September billing.  Most of Ontario's electricity sector costs are now fixed - using less electricity usually saves nothing; occasionally it saves merely a small fraction (the fuel cost) of the rate Ontarians would pay for the avoided consumption.

A professional organization may finally be noting the 'conservation' debacle.  This, from OSPE, impressed me last week:
Our current conservation programs are too focused on reducing demand regardless of the impact on the grid utilization factor. Reducing demand during a period when we have excess supply, as we have now, drives up electricity rates faster. The rising rates discourage badly needed investments in Ontario.
OSPE recommends conservation programs be modified to place greater emphasis on improving the grid utilization factor by focusing on reducing daily peak loads and critical peak loads (the hottest and coldest days in the year). We should reduce the emphasis on lowering night time load until there is a deficiency of base load supply. Once there is an outcomes focus and opt-in revised base/peak price plan as recommended ...then the market will respond with integrated solutions offerings to better meet customer needs and specific situations....
Responsible professionals have a tough fight on their hands in stopping the enormous cost increases Ontario's wholesale electricity market has been experiencing since last winter.

Minister Chiarelli shares the media insert in the Toronto Star with a piece in which the solar lobby's CanSIA recommend the ministry pick solar as a winner, give it a guaranteed share of energy consumed, and feed-in tariffs, and net metering (based on "consumer demand" - which is nil based on how many people are willing to pay 5 times more for their electricity to ensure it comes from some doctor's roof instead of a public generator) ... and, of course, including solar in conservation programming.

The wind industry's Robert Hornung is quoted, in another area of the insert, arguing the ridiculous;
“CanWEA is advocating for commitments to procure another 2,000 MW of wind over the next 4 years, that would allow Ontario to address shortfalls in supply arising from the refurbishment of nuclear plants.”
The few following the industry, in Ontario and elsewhere, recently will realize how ridiculous it is to claim a displacement source could replace any firm generation, coupled with a crazed implication a 20-year must-take contract for displacement generation makes sense as a replacement for a much shorter refurbishment period.

Those following the industry in Ontario for longer will realize the government already attempted a planning exercise to deal with scheduling nuclear refurbishments - only to scrap the plan and ignore the scheduling of refurbishments for another 3 years.
Feb. 17, 2011 Directive to OPA from Minister of Energy


  1. This is a great roundup and critique of recent Ontario energy news. Reblogged at

  2. 1) Do you know if there has been any significant reduction in electricity use by substituting gas in applications (like space heating or industrial use)?

    2) If there is one thing that puzzles me about Ontario (and also B.C., where I live) it is in pushing wholesale reduction in demand. Rather than, say, peak demand. Few stakeholders ought to be happy about this process:

    Government: It gets less revenue from Hydro (or at least, causes an increased deficit at hydro).

    Independents, like Run-of-the-River hydro producers: The lack of demand has magnified the cost of IPP contracts to B.C. Hydro. Recently the Liberal government has allowed Hydro to pull back on its (Gordon Campbell era) promises to purchase new power from IPPs.

    Hydro: It gets less revenue. Hydro in B.C. needs revenue to pay its metric tonne of flesh to the government, while also funding new generation and infrastructure to support industry, like new mines, in rural areas, and also support growth in urban areas.

    We have smart meters, but no time of use pricing, or useful apps to utilise smart-meter info.

    Where is the constituency for hydro conservation? (The gas industry is all I can think of.)

    3) Wikipedia has a page on Ontario electricity policy:
    And, improbably, there is nothing much happening in the "talk" section.

  3. Chris, thanks for commenting.

    The short answer is no on fuel substitution. I have looked at data from Statistics Canada, and I've looked at data from the Ontario Energy Board, and nothing jumped out at me (I could have looked more closely)

    I will note the Ontario and federal government previously had programs that dealt with energy efficiency - such as home improvement credits and particularly programs for insulation. I'm not aware of that being the case anymore with an absence of programs that don't deal with reducing electricity consumption - which won't necessarilty reduce energy consumption at all.

    For example, the IESO's latest 18-month forecast stated, "winter peak load is a mix of end-uses, with the greatest conservation impacts coming from lighting efficiency gains." The lights are inefficient because much of the energy they consume generates heat instead of light, so during heating season this is not a conservation of energy (or emissions) accomplishment.

    re: pushing reduction in wholesale demand instead of peak. This is a good point, and I've argued in the past for costing systems larglely on capacity costs, as opposed to mythical levelized unit costs. I can't speak to BC, but in Ontario most conservation accomplishment claims are nonsense.
    re: smart meters and apps ... I'll be writing something again shortly, but I am opposed to TOU pricing and for intelligent metering, which means essentially consumers require real-time access to their data (and the ability to assign that access to a proxy/service company). The data architecture needs to be right for apps to follow.

    On private power producers devaluing public during a period of excess supply... yep.
    I've written on that one a lot, including siting the worst, and most corrupt looking, directive of the last couple of years being a directive to extend hugely expensive non-utility generator contracts.

    Haven't paid much attention to Wikipedia - just glanced at it and skimmed the last section, which was very poor.
    Can't say I'll add it to my to-do list though.