On Saturday we took a visit to SaskPower's travelling PowerToGrow (mis) information tent; it was in Saskatoon for the day as part of the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival.
Hats off to the staff: despite the fact that it was a cold, wet day; they were cheerful and keen to answer questions from the people dropping by. Other than that there was little of value and plenty of baloney. Inedible: unfortunately.
We were each given a bright-orange iPad which talked to us as we pointed it at abstract shapes located around the tent. Some of the more egregiously inaccurate statements and inferences are as follows;
Lack of balance. Lots on how wind is unreliable and how the economics of renewables have to be improved (more on these two items below), information on how SaskPower is spending $1-billion annually on electrical upgrades (no complaints there) but nothing on coal despite the fact that it generates 44 percent of our electricity. This dearth of information probably had nothing to do with the fact that coal is hopelessly uneconomic and horribly dirty.
No mention of the $1-billion subsidy to oil that is the Boundary Dam Carbon Capture project. Funny that.
Capacity Factor vs. Availability Factor
Moving on to the wind turbine icon in the tent;
There was a helpful animation showing how a wind turbine is like a little sailing dinghy that needs an outboard motor when there is no wind.
And to drive the point home - this handy explanation;
It is a little concerning that SaskPower does not appear to understand the difference between Capacity and Availability Factors. This is a critical distinction and, as noted by non other than GE, modern wind turbines are 98 percent reliable: this is comparable with coal, natural gas and nuclear-fired power stations.
And, by the way, the wind in Saskatchewan, given our world class resource, tends to blow more than 90 percent of the time (not 40 percent as stated).
Electricity from a wind turbine cannot be stored. Really? This is pathetic! We have gone over this one on multiple occasions (including as many letters to SaskPower all of which have been ignored) so to save eye-strain we'll skip the details. Suffice to say;
1) Every form of generation (coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, chicken poop; you name it) needs back up,
2) The backup needs for wind energy are no different (and some would say considerably less - Point 3; Page 14)) than for other forms of generation.
Ten Percent of Capacity will be from Wind by 2020. Excellent! As we have previously discussed, this represents a major shift from the regressive policies of the previous CEO. However and due to wind's lower capacity factor (relative to coal, gas and hydro) 10 percent by capacity represents around 7 percent of electricity.
In other words it will take SaskPower 14 years to go from 3 percent (2006) to 7 percent (2020) despite having a world class wind resource. This is progress but is not overly ambitious relative to others. For example, in only 8 years South Dakota went from generating 1.5 percent of its electricity from wind to 25 percent. And, for the naysayers who will claim that South Dakota is 'different': it's not! It has a similar wind resource, land area and population density to Saskatchewan.
Solar. No mention. This is incredible given the stunning drop (99 percent) in the cost of solar since 1980. Solar is today cheaper than coal with carbon capture and in many regions is already cost competitive with wholesale power prices. If that, together with the fact that Saskatchewan has a best-in-Canada solar resource, is not enough for SaskPower (and clearly it is not); evidence for solar's enormous potential lies in these notable recent announcements.
Solar represented more a third of all new generation capacity added in the US in 2014; US solar generation is 31 times higher today than it was only 10 years ago and is now greater than total Saskatchewan generation; India's Prime Minister calls solar the "ultimate solution" to the country's energy needs; the French Government announced that, due to great economics, it will double the size of its solar call for tenders; a major new piece of California legislation allows for small solar aggregation and opens the market to a plethora of new ancillary services. Even Uzbekistan (Central Asia in case you are wondering) is getting in on the act.
Renewable Energy Economics. In one of the displays we are told we can stop worrying and rest assured that those hard-working folk at SaskPower are dedicated to;
Woo-hoo. Go SaskPower!
However a reasonable person might ask why SaskPower needs to focus limited resources on improving the economics of renewables when wind energy is already half the price of the $1.6-billion Boundary Dam scheme and competitive with natural gas and hydro-electricity. Surely it would be less effort (and vastly greater savings for hard-pressed Saskatchewan electricity consumers) if SaskPower simply cancelled the additional $2-billion+ it is planning to spend on two more carbon capture schemes at Boundary Dam (see the end of this post for details).
If SaskPower is truly interested in improving the economics of renewables the best thing it could do would be to stop actively blocking the multiple companies that want to connect billions of dollars worth of wind projects to the Saskatchewan electrical grid. In the process and if SaskPower would allow it, wind energy would create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tonnes annually.
Overall a sorry state of affairs and electricity consumers should be concerned.
Not content with last year's losses of $1-billion on the coal-fired Boundary Dam CCS; SaskPower continues to spend public funds on peddling misinformation which appears designed solely to restrict cost-competitive new generation options. Had the early pioneers had a similarly regressive attitude then we would probably still be sitting on the open prairie.
As a first step SaskPower should engage in dialogue with interested parties (i.e. the renewable energy community) with the stated goal being to ensure that the general public is provided with a balanced picture of our options. That balanced picture will only be possible with factually correct information: something which is sorely lacking at present.
If all of this gets you a little riled up then feel free to contact Brian Mohr at SaskPower. He is their 'Manager - Sustainable Supply Development' and can be reached at 306-566-3379 (firstname.lastname@example.org). He will not reply to our communications but you may have more luck.