Stable power grid requires reserve capacity

By Letter to the Editor on February 6, 2016.

Re: “Correcting wind energy errors,” by Robert Hornung, president CanWEA, Jan. 23.

Mr. Hornung, perhaps unintentionally, ended up misleading Albertans with his letter. Yes, in order for the grid to be stable and reliable, some kind of reserve capacity is always required, ready to kick in when one of the stations has a problem or shutdown. However, the amount of capacity reserve is defined by the current potential unreliability of the electricity-producing stations in a grid. The higher the unreliability, the higher the needed capacity reserve.

Currently Alberta’s grid is supplied by high-reliability gas and coal power plants that don’t shut down when a cloud passes, at sunset, or when the wind drops. If we go ahead and increase the renewables to supply 30 per cent of the grid, it means that we will be increasing the grid’s unreliability and as a result, we will need a higher number of gas-powered plants to be on stand-by. These reserves will have to be at least 30 per cent of the grid, thus duplicating capital and operating costs and hence increasing our electricity bills.

Having gas-fired plants on spinning reserve, means these gas power plants will run inefficiently continuously, producing little or no power in order to be ready. Running the spinning reserve not only increases the cost but also continuously emits CO2 to our atmosphere from the gas turbines that need to be shadowing unreliable wind power.

Considering the CO2 emissions resulting from the making of the steel towers and concrete bases of the wind turbines, plus the continuing necessity to shadow them with gas turbines, a question needs to be answered: “Does wind power contribute anything more than increased costs of electricity, higher redundancy, and a need for subsidies, all without saving the significant amount of CO2 from our environment, as promised?”

The Energy Collegium stands behind the accuracy of its statements and invites Mr. Hornung to send his experts to Lethbridge where we can help them understand the differences between “regulation reserve,” “capacity reserve” and “spinning reserve” of a grid system. This should help the president of CanWEA to stop confusing the different meanings of these terms.

Cosmos Voutsinos