You are looking at the Bull Creek 1 and 2 Wind Farms near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border on Sept. 14, when most of the turbines were hardly turning. On Oct. 1, these two wind farms were two of the only three wind farms in all of Alberta producing any power whatsoever. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Alberta adds 29th wind farm, and collectively they all put out 0.3 per cent of their capacity on Oct. 1

 

I had something of a surreal experience on Wednesday, Sept. 28. I was sitting in the SIMSA Energy Supply Forum in Regina, listening to the presenter from General Electric-Hitachi speak about the plan to build four 300 megawatt small modular reactors in this province.

I happened to glance at that moment on my phone to the Alberta Electric System Operator grid website, which puts out minute-by-minute updates on the output of that province’s grid. (SaskPower pointedly does not do this, citing such data as proprietary.)

To my amazement, yet again, Alberta’s wind fleet was collapsing in its output. I watched the numbers fall until it hit 26 megawatts at 1:55 p.m. That was just one per cent of the total 2,589 megawatts of wind generation connected to the grid, across 28 wind farms on that date.

I don’t know why, but this usually seems to happen on a Wednesday. I have no explanation for it other than Wednesday seems to be the day Alberta doesn’t get wind, or the day I tend to check it out.

But that week, Tuesday was a no-wind day as well. The AESO put out “grid alerts” on both Tuesday and Wednesday around supper time.

On Saturday, I checked the grid again. As if Wednesday wasn’t bad enough, Saturday was much worse. That is, if you consider going from one per cent capacity to a third of a per cent much worse.

If you looked at the Alberta Electric System Operator grid website just before noon on Saturday, Oct. 1, you would have found an almost complete collapse of wind-driven electrical generation.

At 11:45 a.m., Alberta’s now 2,734 megawatts of wind generation were contributing just eight, yes, eight megawatts to the grid.

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And those eight megawatts, which were consistent for the next seven minutes, were just 0.29 per cent of the nameplate capacity of wind generation in the province. One third of one per cent. Thirteen minutes later wind power generation grew by a whole eighth – it was now putting out nine megawatts. But by 12 noon, it had fallen again, back to eight megawatts. Over the next hour and a half, total wind output varied between eight and 10 megawatts. The Alberta grid was getting effectively nothing from its multi-billion-dollar buildout of wind power generation.

Nothing.

Alberta wind generation at 11:45 a.m. on Oct. 1. MC is maximum capacity, in megawatts. TNG is total net to grid, in megawatts. 26 of the 29 wind farms attached to the grid were showing zero power production. Alberta Electric System Operator

Let me put that another way. Just two Caterpillar 3616 diesel generator sets, each with 295.6 litre displacement and capable of 6,598 horsepower, running full out could have outdone the entire wind fleet of Alberta for that hour and a half. Two large gen sets. That’s it.

Just two of these Caterpillar 3616 generators could have put out more power than all of the hundreds of wind turbines across Alberta, combined, at noon on Oct. 1. Caterpillar

 

Only two of Alberta’s three remaining coal units were up and running. Genesee Unit 3 had wound down starting at 4 p.m. the day before, shutting off at 8 p.m. And even as it spun down before totally shutting off, it had been putting out more power than all of Alberta’s wind capacity would be 16 hours later.

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Curiously, Alberta was not drawing on much power from its neighbours. The province routinely imports up to 800 megawatts. Being a sunny day, solar was contributing 730 of 1,013 nameplate megawatts, so that helped a great deal. It appears that the mammoth 465 megawatt Travers solar facility is now fully operational, as it was providing 341 megawatts. That’s a huge increase from before, as that one facility nearly doubled Alberta’s solar capacity. Conveniently, wind power totally died precisely when the sun was highest in the sky. Otherwise, natural gas-fired power is what saved the day.

Alberta solar generation at 11:45 a.m. on Oct. 1. Alberta Electric System Operator

Fool me 29 times

One of the arguments for wind has been if it’s not blowing here, it’s got to be blowing somewhere. We just need to spread it out of a large enough area.

Well, the area of southern Alberta populated by wind farms is larger than the area of the BENELUX countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg) combined. Alternatively, it’s about the size of all of Austria.

Alberta’s wind power in installed across an area larger than the Netherlands (red), Belgium (pink) and Luxemburg (green) combined. www.thetruesize.com

 

So apparently, Alberta is not spread out enough.

The saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

What happens when you get fooled 29 times?

Because that’s what’s happening in Alberta. The denominator in the wind power equation has grown as well, as another wind farm was added onto the grid. The new total is now 29, an increase of one from the previous week. (You have to be sharp about this, because new facilities are continually being added.)

Despite wide geographic dispersion across an area larger than several small European nations, the fleet of wind farms were producing next to nothing. Of those 29, 26 were putting up zeros.

The AESO starts including new wind farms on their list before they start producing power. Two recent additions were Suncor’s massive 200 megawatt Forty Mile Granlea, and Wheatland Wind. But Granlea was producing 60 megawatts of power on the grid earlier in the week.

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Only three wind farms were contributing any power whatsoever to the grid. Bull Creek 1 and 2 are located literally within spitting distance of the Saskatchewan border, southeast of Provost. The closest turbines to Saskatchewan literally cast their shadows into this province.

Whitla 1 was the only other wind facility putting out any power. Whitla’s fact sheet describes the facility as, “Comprised of 98 Vestas V136 – 3.6 MW wind turbines with a hub height of 105 metres and blade rotor diameter of 136 metres”

All of those 98 turbines, each capable of 3.6 megawatts, were cumulatively putting out one singular megawatt. But then again, of the hundreds of other turbines built across southern Alberta, they were putting out zeros.

The newest wind farm addition is Hand Hills, a 145 megawatt project approximately 28 kilometres northeast of Drumheller. These are big five-megawatt turbines, as there are only 29 turbines for those 145 megawatts. Development work began on this project in 2007, according to proponent BluEarth Renewables’ website. The company was targeting energization of its transmission line in September, which would account for why the site now shows up on the AESO grid.

Battery storage to the rescue, for 20 minutes at a time

Over the last 10 months of randomly watching Alberta’s electrical grid, I have not seen its four battery energy storage sites contributing a singular megawatt to the grid, according to the AESO website.

However, I found a site that chronicles all of AESO’s data, and includes historical data. It’s called Dispatcho.app.

The Dispatcho.app website showing wind power production at Alberta’s wind farms at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 1. Dispacho.app

It turned out those four grid-scale battery sites actually do contribute to the grid, but on very, very rare occasions, and only for minutes at a time. Out of the 720 hours in the last 30 days, each of the sites put out power for four or fewer hours.

So despite wind’s complete output collapse at noon on Oct. 1, Alberta’s 70 megawatts of battery energy storage was not called upon to contribute to the grid

Dispatcho revealed that the day before, three of the four battery units were called upon to provide power for a brief time, during the 5 p.m. hour on Friday, Sept. 30. eReserve1 Rycroft 1 provided its full capacity of 20 megawatts for 20 minutes, from 5:09 to 5:29 p.m.

eReserve2 Buffalo Creek provided 18 megawatts for 10 minutes.

eReserve3 Mercer Hill provided its full 20 megawatts for the same 20 minutes, from 5:09 to 5:29 p.m.

So when you hear the politicians and power people talk about how “grid-scale batteries” will help level out the intermittency of renewable power generation from wind and solar, this is how it’s happening in the real world.

eReserve1 Rycroft was called upon six times in the last months, typically during the supper hour. On Sept. 1 it put out 20 megawatts for 20 minutes, 20 megawatts for 29 minutes on Sept. 15, 20 megawatts for 17 minutes on Sept. 24. On Sept. 27 it out put three minutes of power at 11 megawatts. The following day it again put out 11 megawatts for 20 minutes.

On September 28, it put out 20 to 15 megawatts for a total of 58 minutes. And then there was the aforementioned 20 minutes on Sept. 30.

Similar outcomes can be seen for eReserve2 Buffalo Creek, which was called upon six times in the last 30 days. Each time it was measured in minutes.

eReserve3 Mercer Hill was called upon five times, usually for 20-30 minutes.

Summerview contributed power to the grid five times over the course of the month. On Sept. 27 it contributed its full 10 megawatts for nearly two full hours during mid-day, by far the longest contribution by any of the four battery sites during September.

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Forget wind and build nukes

Getting back to the energy forum. There were three nuclear power developers there, talking to people about small modular reactors. They included GE-Hitatchi, Westinghouse and X-Energy.

It is abundantly clear that spending billions on wind power is a fool’s errand. If all that money had been spent on just one single nuclear reactor, Alberta would have consistent power 24/7 days a week. The money spent on wind to date in Alberta likely could have built two 300 megawatt SMRs, maybe more.

And make no mistake – Saskatchewan is on this path. I just found out that BluEarth Renewables is planning a 230 megawatt, 51 turbine project near Big Beaver, Saskatchewan. “The project is located in the Rural Municipalities of Happy Valley and Hart Butte, approximately five kilometres north of Big Beaver and 20 kilometres east of Coronach,” the project website says.

Good for you, Coronach. You get to lose your coal mine and power plant in a few years, but surely these wind turbines will make up for it. When they’re turning, that is. If they’re turning.

If we’re not going to pursue further carbon capture in this province, if we’re going to lose coal, there’ only one solution left – build nuclear. Build lots, build now, and build it as fast as can be safely done.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca

 

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At the moment SaskPower set a summer consumption record, wind power was generating just 4.7 % of its capacity

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