Katrina Zinchuk clears snow with a thankfully gas-powered snowblower on the edge of Yorkton on Dec. 27. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

It’s Dec. 27, and I’m sitting at my parent’s acreage on the edge of Yorkton. We got back last night from Preeceville just before a big storm hit. Just driving a half mile out of town to their acreage, visibility was less than 50 metres, and I could not see where the road was under the snow.

So we spent most of today digging out. Thankfully, this fall Mom bought a new Husqvarna snow blower. It’s not a big one, and has no bells or whistles, but it worked quite well, thank you.

Perhaps I should elaborate – it worked quite well for 3.5 hours in -26 C weather. The snow varied between four and 11 inches throughout, with most of it being six to eight inches. A few places, the snow was thick enough to reach the very top of the throat of the snowblower.

There were many times where we had to slow down to nothing, and let it clear its throat as the engine sputtered from being a little overworked. But we were able to power through each time. It took every bit of oomph that single cylinder, four-stroke engine had. But it did all that it was asked.

As I write this, the outside temperature is -32 C, and it will plummet to -37 tonight. This, my friends, is Saskatchewan. Heavy snow followed by frigid temperatures can and does occur anywhere in this province, and generally do on a regular basis, from November to March.

Mom bought the Husqvarna at Canadian Tire. I see they now offer a several battery-powered snowblowers. Some are from their two house brands – Yardworks and Mastercraft. The top-end Yardworks model promo video proudly proclaims that with its two 48-volt batteries, “When it comes to your yard this winter, no amount of snow will be safe!”

Really? I would have loved to see said 21 inch electric Yardworks snowblower tackle what we dealt with today. We refueled three times, each time taking about three minutes. How many times would that electric model have to have been recharged to cover the area we did? How many hours would each charge take?

It turns the specs list that – 30 minutes of run time, and 150 minutes (two and a half hours) to recharge, basically three hours per cycle.

Brian Zinchuk in his pipeline/rigging gear blowing snow in -26 C weather.

Since we blew snow continuously for 3.5 hours without a break, that’s seven cycles. It would have taken the Yardworks model 21 hours to do the same job, and that’s if, a big if, if could do the job. Would it have had the power, especially in -26 C, to swallow 11 inches or more of snow?

And how would we charge said snowblower? Wind perhaps?

From what I can find, SaskPower, at this very moment of -32 C, has a system load of 3,506 megawatts. The total generating capacity is 4,999 megawatts, if absolutely everything was running at the same time, and the wind generation was optimal, and nothing was down for maintenance.

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However, I cannot find how much power is coming from each generating station. I can, however, find out how much power is coming out of each Alberta generating station at any moment. You can find it at http://ets.aeso.ca/ets_web/ip/Market/Reports/CSDReportServlet. It’s updated every minute.

For context, Alberta is currently as frozen as Saskatchewan is. At this moment it’s -34 in Red Deer, -31 in Edmonton, -29 in Calgary, -31 in Medicine Hat, -31 in Lloydminster, -31 in Fort McMurray, and Grande Prairie is a balmy -28. So I think I can legitimately use Alberta as analogous to Saskatchewan.

Let’s look at the Alberta power generation, shall we? Let’s start with this tweet from Enmax: “Extreme weather affecting the operations of some generation facilities prompted AESO to declare an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 2 at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. #ABElectricity.”

This was taken at 10:15 p.m., Dec. 27. MC is maximum capacity, in megawatts. TNG is total net generation, in megawatts. DCR is dispatched (and accepted) contingency reserve, but we’ll leave that for discussion another day.

Here’s the summary. The key point is the Alberta internal load – how much power is being consumed within the province at that moment. At 10:15 p.m. it was 11,052 megawatts. Alberta was producing 10,566 megawatts of its own power, and importing 486 megawatts to fill in the gaps. About a quarter of that was coming from Saskatchewan.

 

SUMMARY
Alberta Total Net Generation 10566
Net Actual Interchange -486
Alberta Internal Load (AIL) 11052
Net-To-Grid Generation 7806
Contingency Reserve Required 599
Dispatched Contingency Reserve (DCR) 592
Dispatched Contingency Reserve -Gen 472
Dispatched Contingency Reserve -Other 120
LSSi Armed Dispatch 71
LSSi Offered Volume 71

 

Its total installed wind capacity is 2,269 megawatts. And its total, theoretical maximum power generation capacity is 17,224 megawatts.

On this night, at that moment, Alberta’s power load was 11,052. And it was receiving a total of 108 megawatts from its 2,269 megawatts installed wind capacity.

Let’s put that into perspective. At that moment (and it was supposed to get colder, later in the night), wind was producing 0.98 per cent of Alberta’s power needs, despite making up 13.2 per cent of the installed power based. That’s not 98 per cent, or 9.8 per cent. It was 0.98 per cent – less than one per cent.

 

GENERATION
GROUP MC TNG DCR
GAS 10166 7450 140
HYDRO 894 350 236
ENERGY STORAGE 50 0 50
SOLAR 736 0 0
WIND 2269 108 0
OTHER 424 279 17
DUAL FUEL 155 138 14
COAL 2530 2227 55
TOTAL 17224 10552 512

 

This is how much power Alberta was getting from its neighbours:

INTERCHANGE
PATH ACTUAL FLOW
British Columbia -242
Montana -135
Saskatchewan -152
TOTAL -529

 

Alberta’s been in a big rush to get rid of coal – something the NDP under Notley drove home and the UPC kept on trucking. Shut down coal, build wind, was the plan.

Alberta doesn’t have much coal generation left, but look at its numbers – every coal plant was producing power, and most are producing their full capacity.

COAL
ASSET MC TNG DCR
Genesee #1 (GN1) 400 403 0
Genesee #2 (GN2) 400 395 0
Genesee #3 (GN3) 466 461 0
Keephills #1 (KH1) 395 273 55
Keephills #3 (KH3) 463 414 0
Sundance #4 (SD4) 406 272 0
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Get rid of coal, the earthmuffins say, as does the prime minister. Wind and solar shall meet our needs. So let’s look at wind. Here are the 26 wind facilities tied to the Alberta grid:

WIND
ASSET MC TNG DCR
Ardenville Wind (ARD1)* 68 2 0
BUL1 Bull Creek (BUL1)* 13 2 0
BUL2 Bull Creek (BUL2)* 16 2 0
Blackspring Ridge (BSR1)* 300 16 0
Blue Trail Wind (BTR1)* 66 1 0
Castle River #1 (CR1)* 39 0 0
Castle Rock Ridge 2 (CRR2)* 29 1 0
Castle Rock Wind Farm (CRR1)* 77 2 0
Cowley Ridge (CRE3)* 20 0 0
Enmax Taber (TAB1)* 81 4 0
Ghost Pine (NEP1)* 82 0 0
Halkirk Wind Power Facility (HAL1)* 150 7 0
Kettles Hill (KHW1)* 63 3 0
McBride Lake Windfarm (AKE1)* 73 0 0
Oldman 2 Wind Farm 1 (OWF1)* 46 3 0
Rattlesnake Ridge Wind (RTL1)* 130 0 0
Riverview (RIV1)* 105 5 0
Soderglen Wind (GWW1)* 71 3 0
Summerview 1 (IEW1)* 66 0 0
Summerview 2 (IEW2)* 66 2 0
Suncor Chin Chute (SCR3)* 30 1 0
Suncor Magrath (SCR2)* 30 0 0
Whitla 1 (WHT1)* 202 43 0
Whitla 2 (WHT2)* 151 22 0
Windrise (WRW1)* 207 0 0
Wintering Hills (SCR4)* 88 0 0

 

Of those 26 wind farms, only two – Witla 1 and 2, were producing even a noticeable fraction of their installed capacity. Many were producing zero.

And how about solar? Surely that will keep us warm on a cold, prairie night.

SOLAR
ASSET MC TNG DCR
BRD1 Burdett (BRD1) 11 0 0
BUR1 Burdett (BUR1) 20 0 0
Brooks Solar (BSC1) 15 0 0
Claresholm 1 (CLR1) 58 0 0
Claresholm 2 (CLR2) 75 0 0
Hays (HYS1) 23 0 0
Hull (HUL1) 25 0 0
Innisfail (INF1) 22 0 0
Jenner (JER1) 23 0 0
Suffield (SUF1) 23 0 0
Travers (TVS1) 400 0 0
Vauxhall (VXH1) 22 0 0
Westfield Yellow Lake (WEF1) 19 0 0

 

Got that? ZERO. Not one megawatt to the grid. We, of course, know this, because the sun is on the other side of the planet. Inconvenient, that, when it’s -30 or colder.

But Alberta does have gas generation. Lots and lots of gas. Take a look. And look closely how much power they were putting out. (Yes, it’s a long scroll. That’s the point.)

GAS
Simple Cycle
ASSET MC TNG DCR
AB Newsprint (ANC1) 63 65 0
Bantry (ALP1) 7 6 0
Bellshill (BHL1) 5 5 0
Carson Creek (GEN5) 15 13 0
Cloverbar #1 (ENC1) 48 0 0
Cloverbar #2 (ENC2) 101 44 45
Cloverbar #3 (ENC3) 101 91 0
Crossfield Energy Centre #1 (CRS1) 48 42 0
Crossfield Energy Centre #2 (CRS2) 48 42 0
Crossfield Energy Centre #3 (CRS3)^ 48 43 0
Drywood (DRW1) 6 2 0
H.R. Milner (HRM) 300 200 0
Judy Creek (GEN6) 15 11 0
Lethbridge Burdett (ME03) 7 7 0
Lethbridge Coaldale (ME04) 6 6 0
Lethbridge Taber (ME02) 8 8 0
NPC1 Denis St. Pierre (NPC1) 11 3 0
NPC2 JL Landry (NPC2) 9 9 0
Northern Prairie Power Project (NPP1) 105 95 0
Parkland (ALP2) 10 10 0
Poplar Hill #1 (PH1) 48 39 0
Rainbow #5 (RB5) 50 50 0
Ralston (NAT1) 20 17 0
South Edmonton Terminal (SET1) 20 7 0
Valley View 1 (VVW1) 50 20 25
Valley View 2 (VVW2) 50 21 25
West Cadotte (WCD1) 20 20 0
West Pembina (PMB1)* 13 0 0
Cogeneration
ASSET MC TNG DCR
Air Liquide Scotford #1 (ALS1) 106 92 10
AltaGas Harmattan (HMT1) 45 38 0
Base Plant (SCR1) 50 41 0
Bear Creek 1 (BCRK) 64 58 0
Bear Creek 2 (BCR2) 36 26 0
Blackfalds (BFD1) 6 5 0
CNRL Horizon (CNR5)* 203 217 0
Camrose (CRG1)* 10 6 0
Caroline (SHCG)* 19 0 0
Carseland Cogen (TC01) 95 88 0
Christina Lake (CL01) 100 97 0
Coaldale (COD1) 5 4 0
Dow Hydrocarbon (DOWG) 326 204 10
Edson (TLM2) 13 11 0
Firebag (SCR6) 497 457 0
Fort Hills (FH1) 199 200 0
Foster Creek (EC04) 98 90 0
Heartland Petrochemical (HRT1) 116 21 0
Joffre #1 (JOF1) 474 425 0
Kearl (IOR3) 84 50 0
Lindbergh (PEC1)* 16 16 0
MEG1 Christina Lake (MEG1) 202 190 0
MacKay River (MKRC) 207 161 0
Mahkeses (IOR1) 180 163 0
Mulligan (MUL1)* 5 5 0
Muskeg River (MKR1) 202 199 0
Nabiye (IOR2)* 195 172 0
Nexen Inc #2 (NX02) 220 179 0
Poplar Creek (SCR5) 376 296 0
Primrose #1 (PR1) 100 92 0
Rainbow Lake #1 (RL1) 47 47 0
Redwater Cogen (TC02) 92 79 0
Saddle Hills (SDH1) 10 8 0
Scotford Upgrader (APS1) 195 164 0
Strathcona (IOR4)* 43 0 0
Syncrude #1 (SCL1)* 510 388 0
U of C Generator (UOC1)* 12 14 0
University of Alberta (UOA1)* 39 33 0
Combined Cycle
ASSET MC TNG DCR
Cavalier (EC01) 120 104 0
ENMAX Calgary Energy Centre (CAL1) 320 303 0
Fort Nelson (FNG1) 73 72 0
Medicine Hat #1 (CMH1) 255 222 15
Nexen Inc #1 (NX01) 120 54 0
Shepard (EGC1) 868 838 0
Gas Fired Steam
ASSET MC TNG DCR
Battle River #5 (BR5) 385 376 10
Keephills #2 (KH2) 395 0 0
Sheerness #1 (SH1) 400 123 0
Sheerness #2 (SH2) 400 123 0
Sundance #6 (SD6) 401 0 0

 

So, while we don’t have similar information, available minute by minute, in Saskatchewan, you can expect it’s not going to be far off.

Why is there no wind power on the coldest days of the year? Simple: when it’s below -30 C or so, they must shut down said wind turbines lest they shatter. That would ruin all the earthmuffins’ days.

And that’s why you absolutely must have backup power, usually in the form of natural gas generation, if you’re going to have wind.

But now the environmental movement is starting to shift away from considering natural gas as being acceptable, despite burning much cleaner and having much lower CO2 emissions than coal or oil. So what should Alberta, or Saskatchewan, do then? For Alberta, to replace their 10,166 megawatts of gas-fired power generation with nuclear power, they would need 34 small modular nuclear reactors at 300 megawatts each. Not three, or six, or a dozen. 34 nuclear reactors to replace natural gas.

And that’s before we all supposedly drive electric vehicles. That’s a column for another day.

It’s supposed to be cold in southeast Saskatchewan all week, folks. How are we supposed to charge our electric snow blowers and electric vehicles if the new wind turbines at Assiniboia aren’t turning? You don’t build your grid for the average days, or the good days. You build it for the worst days. And fossil fuels keep us warm on those days.

One last thing – as I proofread this at 1 a.m., only five of those 26 wind farms were producing any power at all – Halkirk was producing 49 megawatts of 150 megawatts capacity, and four others were producing between one and two megawatts. The total was 55 megawatts – half the already abysmal number I used earlier in this column. The remaining 21 had zeros across the board. Solar, as we know, was also zero.

If we have to rely on wind and solar, can’t use fossil fuels, and build no atomic power, we’ll be back in the 19th century, huddled around a pot-bellied wood stove, trying to keep warm, lit by candles. And there’s not a lot of wood to burn in southern Saskatchewan.

 

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

 

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Brian Zinchuk: Alberta wind and solar produced 76 megawatts out of a theoretical 3,005 megawatts at noon on New Year’s Eve, with cold warnings all over the province

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