Articles on Wind Power in Ontario Address Effects on Emissions, Other Issues

Michael Giberson

Tyler Hamilton has a pair of stories in the Toronto Star addressing concerns about wind power developments in Ontario. The first article examines health-related claims and indicates that no scientific evidence yet finds evidence of adverse health affects, but research in the area in increasing. The second article considers a number of other arguments against wind – the actual effect on emissions, the need for additional dispatchable generation to backstop wind’s variability, the high cost of wind power – and mostly find that many anti-wind power arguments are off the mark. (Critics of wind power clearly think Hamilton is off the mark. See the extensive back and forth in the comments following the piece.)

Mentioned in the second article is a short commentary on wind power by Michael Trebilcock, professor of law and economics at the University of Toronto, which asserts, “There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions.”

Hamilton’s article offers comments in opposition to Trebilcock’s examples, but I think the best answer is “It depends.”  That is to say, the effect of increased wind power capacity on emissions depends on several things (actual wind power output, the variability of wind power output, and perhaps most importantly which other generation units reduce output – and, which increase output – as wind power production increases).

Trebilcock cites a working paper by MIT economist Arthur Campbell, which presents a theoretical case in support of “It depends,” and illustrates conditions under which increased wind power increases or decreases overall power system emissions. Previously at Knowledge Problem we’ve mentioned the research of Joseph Cullen in which he attempts to measure the substitution effect between wind power and non-wind power in ERCOT and estimate the net emissions effect.  My sense of these and other reports is that while wind power does reduce emissions from electric power generation, the amount of the reduction is less than a simple 1-to-1 ratio.

So, how much does increased wind power capacity reduce emission? The best answer is, “It depends.”

(HT to Tyler Hamilton at Clean Break and the Energy Collective).


6 thoughts on “Articles on Wind Power in Ontario Address Effects on Emissions, Other Issues

  1. CD Howe institute is noted for its axe to grind on matters economic and political. It only believes in the conservative, free market approach. It’s not an impartial policy institute– think of it as Canada’s Heritage Foundation.

    I haven’t parsed all of Trebilcock’s arguments yet, but he is pretty selective about Denmark, and about Spain. In the case of the latter, Spain has no natural energy resources other than sun and wind (and a relatively small amount of hydro which is quite seasonal). The Spanish are hedging their exposure to world energy prices, quite effectively, and to the tendency for Gazprom to ‘turn the tap’.

    On Denmark, not closing a power plant is not the same as using it. Those fossil stations (Denmark makes heavy use of combined heat and power for community heating) provide backup power when the wind power is not there. It’s a reality that your reserve margin has to grow if you add more intermittent power sources.

    Aggregates of Denmark are also somewhat false, as wind is 40% of supply of West Denmark (mainland) which is grid linked into Scandinavia and Germany. 19% is a meaningless number because the big islands (including Copenhagen) aren’t the same electricity system.

    Comparisons of Denmark’s cost of power are tricky. Denmark levies a 40% tax on electricity consumption. In actual fact, the cost of electricity (net of that) in Denmark is comparable to next door Germany.

    He doesn’t like the Ontario ‘law of second best’ approach to electricity supply. But as is typical of papers of this sort, he doesn’t follow through with his conclusion. His real conclusion is that we should price electricity at the full shadow cost of the carbon emission (say $100/tonne for sake of argument) which would be at least 15 cents/kwhr for *any* technology that emitted CO2.

    If you said that, then the intended audience of his paper would discount the rest of his argument instead he just talks about ‘market forces’. It’s a neat rhetorical trick, to say there is an alternative, but to avoid outlining the consequences of that alternative.

    But he doesn’t say that, instead he alludes to a CD Howe study that says we can afford to wait, and we should not be in a hurry. Ah yes, the Freeman Dyson argument– if we are wrong, not to worry, because there is a chance our models are too pessimistic and that is what Freeman Dyson thinks. Well, the IPCC and the Stern Review, amongst others, beg to differ. So the world’s most informed climate scientists and the chief economic adviser to the UK government. And Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government. And Sir John Houghton, the former Chief Meteorologist of the UK.

  2. I should add, on the value of Trebilcock’s farm, that he knows the answer to that.

    It’s called the Coase Theorem, and he presumably teaches it in his law courses.

    As long as the affected parties are compensated for their loss of property value, then there is no inefficiency created.

    Conversely, as long as the affected parties are able to contract with the wind power supplier to buy the supplier off, there is no economic inefficiency created. The only outcomes are distributional.

    I am surprised he didn’t mention that– or maybe I am not?

  3. Fat Man

    As long as you don’t therefore think you are getting a balanced argument. It is an advocacy body, not a policy analysis shop. Or, to be fair, it blurs the lines (so it’s not quite Heritage in that regard).

    CD Howe would not have published a piece in which Trebilcock said:

    – wind power is a bad thing
    – we should let the market rule, but that might bring more wind power
    – estimates of the shadow price of carbon are $100/tonne, this would equate to c. 15 cents/ kwhr for fossil fueled generation in Ontario (it might be more)
    – at that price, wind power is economic (but might still be a bad thing for other reasons). Alternative is nuclear which would cost at least as much, based on past experience (that $32bn writeoff for the CANDU programme that the taxpayer of Ontario bears)
    – Coase Theorem says it doesn’t matter anyhow (as long as property rights are clearly defined)

    Instead it published a piece in which Trebilcock said:

    – wind power is a bad thing
    – mixture of relevant and spurious analysis as to why
    – makes a false analysis that wind power doesn’t reduce carbon emissions in any situation (that could only be the case on a quite special set of generating mixes, and an assumption about seasonality/ intermittency). Relies on the fact that no one will read the cite carefully
    – market should rule
    – leave out what the previous sentence implies about the cost of carbon-fuelled electricity that fully captures environmental costs (or government subsidies to create more nuclear power)
    – cite off hand a paper which suggests that we should not, near term, worry about carbon emission (cue scientific and economic debate which he ignores)

    CD Howe and Trebilcock know that ‘the market should rule’ is a line the readership will aptly quote (National Post, here we come) but that what they really want is to forget the global warming thing altogether, so they won’t dig deeper into the implications of what he is proposing (full carbon pricing) OR that he is in essence endorsing a denialist stance.

    You are reading rhetoric, rather than analysis.

  4. “CD Howe institute is noted for its axe to grind on matters economic and political. It only believes in the conservative, free market approach. It’s not an impartial policy institute– think of it as Canada’s Heritage Foundation.”

    Amazing, another ‘greenie’ who criticizes anyone/institute/(government / educational)body against the environmentalist (pagan) ‘religion’.
    And the IPCC, Stern Review, Government advisers are impartial…..yes, of course they are ???!

    Irrespective of the economic / engineering arguments backed on either side maybe climate scientists should go back to basic principles and tell the ‘TRUTH’.

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