The Ontario government is now paying wind-power producers not to generate electricity.
Wind-turbine owners were paid 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for any electricity they supplied to the province. But as of Sept. 11, Ontario will pay a reduced rate for wind turbines to stop creating electricity when it isn’t needed.
Paying something for nothing has many Ontarians upset. Part of the problem is that wind is unpredictable, producing power when it may not be needed, but not at times when electricity is in high demand. Plus, there aren’t many viable alternatives for using surplus electricity from wind.
Brandy Giannetta, the Ontario regional director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says the province doesn’t currently have a system in place for storing electricity from wind power. She hopes to see a storage system in the future.
There are different technologies for storing electricity. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries cost $25 to $30 per kilowatt-year to store 10 megawatts, while pumped hydro storage costs $5 per kilowatt-year for 200 megawatts, which is enough electricity to power 2 million 100-watt light bulbs.
While selling electricity to other provinces or the United States is also an option, Ian Rowlands, a professor of environment and resource studies at the University of Waterloo, says there are challenges in moving electricity over long distances, including disruptions to land caused by long-distance transmission lines.
Giannetta says that paying the discounted rate to wind-farm owners will save Ontarians money.
The Canadian Press reported Ontario has had an electricity surplus since 2006, and the Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli estimated taxpayers would save $200 million a year with the reduced-rate plan.
Giannetta also points out that the province is expecting an additional 3,000 megawatts of wind-power-generated electricity over the next 18 months.
“The ability to be able to ramp it up and ramp it down allows them to better manage the system,” she says.
Rowlands says that he hopes people look beyond their knee-jerk reactions to the change. “It’s important to understand where and when the demand is occurring and think about the supply portfolio and about managing that demand.”