Wind energy has issues

By Schnarr, J.W. on January 18, 2016.

Clive Schaupmeyer spoke at the Foothills Little Bow Municipal Associaton about potential problems with the cost of wind power versus fossil fuel sources of electricity generation.

J.W. Schnarr


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Alberta’s shift to renewable energy and away from coal is going to be bad news for Albertans, members of the Foothills Little Bow Municipal Association heard Friday.

Outdoorsman and author Clive Schaupmeyer represents a local group called the “Energy Colegium” – a group of retired professionals with a wide range of backgrounds with the goal of looking at factors regarding increasing electrical costs, and to provide municipalities with information on the electricity sector.

Schaupmeyer said the plan put forward by the province is to eliminate coal use and replace that lost energy with wind and natural gas.

“Wind and gas are key to the Alberta climate leadership plan,” he said.

“(But) is there a pot of gold out there? Or is it going to cost us a pot of gold?” he asked.

“The plan was produced in weeks in time for Paris,” said Schaupmeyer. “It may be well intentioned, but not well thought out.”

Schaupmeyer noted many people don’t realize the actual cost of renewable energy and how the plan to end coal use is going to bite into their wallets.

“We’re not saying (renewables) don’t work,” he said. “We’re saying they are expensive.”

One issue with wind farms is spatial distribution, meaning wind farms are spread out over a large area. Power has to be gathered and transported over large distances.

“In Alberta, we have the capacity for 1,463 Mw of wind, and we gather that over a huge area,” he said, noting wind energy production is gathered from an area the size of The Netherlands in southern Alberta.

Often, wind generation is only able to hit an average of 30 per cent of capacity due to periods where it slips below the five per cent threshold (considered to be zero output). That instability in power levels is a major issue for supplying power to Albertans.

In contrast, the Sheerness generating station near Hanna has a capacity of 780 Mw.

“It provides more electricity than all the wind turbines in Alberta,” Schaupmeyer said, adding coal generation also has stable output.

Another issue with wind power is that it must be backed up due to the intermittent nature of power generation. Backup is handled through the use of natural gas, but it causes a redundancy in the system as wind power and natural gas power then overlap.

“We duplicate that capacity,” said Schaupmeyer. “When you build a wind farm, you better have something to back it up.

“Wind will often be effectively redundant, and all of our electricity will be coming from natural gas when the wind is not blowing.”

Schaupmeyer compared renewable energy costs in Europe, showing how the cost of energy increased the more renewable energy was added to the system.

“How many have heard how wonderful renewables are in Germany?” he asked. “In 2014, Germany got 43 per cent of its power from coal. More than half of that is lignite.”

He said the renewable push in Germany has essentially doubled the cost of power in that country.

“And remember, Germany still has that baseload of coal that’s going to be taken away from Albertans,” he said.

“Intermittent unreliable wind has not replaced conventional fuel anywhere on Earth,” he added.

Schaupmeyer also pointed out the companies which own the bulk of wind production in the province, such as TransAlta, Enbridge, Enmax, and others, are also involved in natural gas for electricity generation.

It has been reported in the media that Alberta’s climate plan could result in $30 billion in investment in wind and natural gas electricity generation.

“So we build huge numbers of subsidized wind farms, then what do we do?” he asked. “Then we build gas generators to back up the ineffective wind. Duplication and redundancy.

“It’s really great if you are in both businesses.”

While some may point out that energy companies build the infrastructure for energy projects Schaupmeyer said those costs are inevitably passed down to Albertans.

“Sooner or later, you will pay,” he said.

Livingstone Macleod MLA Pat Stier was in attendance and said the presentation confirmed many of the things he has been hearing about renewable energy production.

“They confirmed most of the reports we’ve seen in media where, again, the failed policy that the government is trying to promote to replace coal generation and gas generation to a large extent, by renewables, will not work, is not economically viable and will cost this province billions of dollars,” he said.

“It’s nice and refreshing to see some real numbers instead of the less-than-truthful policies the government has been giving us.”