Suncor’s Forty Mile Wind Project, southwest of Medicine Hat. Suncor

In a seemingly never-ending series of stories and columns I’ve written this year, the total failure of wind power is becoming more and more evident. I keep writing them because it keeps happening.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 6 p.m., Alberta’s wind power was putting out just 4.5 per cent of its capacity, 116 megawatts of 2,589. And that’s from a total of 28 wind farms.

That’s according to the Alberta Electric System Operator, which publishes minute-by-minute updates of power generation across the entire power grid. SaskPower does not provide any of this detail to the public.

So out of 28, yes, 28, wind farms, at supper time, Alberta’s entire grid was getting less than one third of one of their coal power generators was putting out. Coincidentally, that’s also less than we get got out of just SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3, with the carbon capture unit running. How many billions upon billions of dollars have been spent in Alberta for this unreliable energy? And how many more will be spent in Saskatchewan?

Oh yeah, and supper time is typically peak demand.

I have no clue as to how many billions Alberta has put into building wind farms, but to give just the most recent example, Suncor’s 200 megawatt project known as Forty Mile Granlea was pegged at $300 million. And if the province now has an installed based of 2,589 megawatts, you do the math. We’re talking several billion dollars.

And Alberta keeps adding to the demoninator in the wind power equation – more turbines, more wind farms. But the problem is the numerator in that equation often falls to next to zero. It doesn’t seem to matter how many more wind farms they have when they all produce next to nothing from time to time.

And when the wind is blowing, sure, they’re getting power, relatively cheaply, too. But many, many times this past year they are getting no power, or next to no power, from all that wind.

At what point does someone scream out, “The emperor has no clothes! These things are a failure?”

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Indeed, if controlling emissions was the goal, and reliability of power paramount, Alberta would have been better off retrofitting its existing coal fleet with carbon capture plants, instead of paying off coal companies to shut down their plants. Better yet, they could have built new coal plants with carbon capture integrated from the start, for the highest efficiency of both power generation and carbon dioxide reduction. If they had built just seven generating units in the 400 megawatt range, they would have nearly completely reliable power for generations equal to the current build-out of wind power.

Current technology like electrostatic precipitators and carbon capture have dramatically reduced pollution coming out of the stack. I’ve lived in Estevan for 14 years now, and not once have I swept coal ash off my newly-washed vehicle. That was pretty common when my stepdad worked in this same town 25 or so years ago.

Some people think Boundary Dam Unit 3 was a failure. It has had its teething problems. But which is the greater failure – one CCS plant which has had hiccups, or 28 wind farms, costing many billions more?

As for being better off, if Alberta had gone that way – wholesale adoption of carbon capture, then the skyline of southern Alberta wouldn’t be dotted with bird and bat choppers, slicing the air with their whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Just two of the recently retired Alberta coal plants would have made up for the entire build out of soon-to-be-disposed-of wind turbines.

SaskPower’s first wind farm, Sunbridge, a collaboration between Enbridge and Suncor, is being shut down and demolished. SaskPower

As Suncor was putting the finishing touches on Forty Mile Granlea, it is currently demolishing one of its first wind farms, Sunbridge, built in Saskatchewan at Gull Lake in collaboration with Enbridge. Twenty years and that’s it! Done! Tear it down. Oh, and SaskPower’s website noted about Sunbridge, “The federal government provided about $12.4 million in funding over 10-years. This commitment in the fall of 2000 was to support renewable power growth in Saskatchewan.”

I wonder if they’re going to dig up the mammoth cement foundations, each bigger than the lid of a nuclear missile silo.

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But it won’t be Suncor’s problem, anyhow. They’re getting out of wind and solar power production. That was sooooo 2010s. Some other sucker, I mean environmentally enlightened investor, will surely pick up these power plants, and take care of cleaning them up in T-minus 20 years and counting.

Come to think of it, my daughter drives a Dodge Cummins turbodiesel one ton dually that’s over 20 years old. And it keeps on going and going, unlike these wind turbines.

You would think if they just keep building more wind farms, as both Alberta and now Saskatchewan are doing, they should be spread out enough that if it’s not windy one place, there would be power coming from another.

And you would be wrong.

Sure, that might happen on an average day. But several times this year, as I’ve reported, it’s not windy in all the places Alberta has placed its 28 wind farms. And remember, wind farms are only positioned in places where the wind is expected to blow consistently. It turns out Alberta’s wind is consistently inconsistent.

But we know all this, some might say. Of course, the wind doesn’t blow some days.

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To which I counter, then why the hell are we building them? Because for every megawatt of wind turbine generation we build, we have to build a backup, almost always natural gas. And since I know of no natural gas power stations in Canada with carbon capture, you still end up getting carbon dioxide emissions.

We’re building duplicate power systems when really we could be building just one.

You can build a lot of coal power, with integrated carbon capture, for a fraction of what nuclear will cost. And as you built more, the cost would go down with greater economy of scale. Or you could build natural gas with carbon capture. And if you don’t want either, then build nuclear. But build a power system that is reliable baseload, period.

If you cooked 100 French fries for supper in Alberta on Aug. 17, just one was cooked by wind. That’s a hell of a way to run a power system.

So much for renewable power. Our salvation.

 

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

 

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Alberta adds another 200 megawatt wind farm, yet still gets next to no power from its now 28 wind farms