An osprey flies in front of an Alberta wind turbine. Photo by Clive Schaupmeyer

It’s noon in Alberta, and wind power generation is producing less than one per cent of its capacity. An hour later, it dropped again by half, to 0.47 per cent of capacity.

At 12:07 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) showed the province’s 3,618 megawatts of wind power generation capacity was actually putting out 33 megawatts, or 0.9 per cent of its nameplate capacity.

Only four of the 36 wind farms spread across southern Alberta were producing any power whatsoever.

Despite being noon, solar power past putting out a little over half of its capacity, at 630 megawatts out of a nameplate capacity of 1,165. There are times when solar does indeed put out close to its maximum capacity during the day, if it’s sunny. But clearly, or not so clearly, it’s not.

This can be determined by looking at the output of solar facilities like Travers, in Vulcan County. It’s the largest solar facility in Canada, at 465 megawatts.

Green indicates sunny day solar output. Orange is partially cloudy, and red are cloudy days solar output at the Travers solar facility in Alberta. Dispatcho.app

If you look at this 10 day graph of Travers’ output, as shown by Dispatcho.app, you can determine when it was sunny, and when it was cloudy. Sunny days show the power ramping up in a clean line, staying flat at maximum output of 465 megawatts, and then dropping down. But when you see a shar drop in that flat output, it means some clouds flew over, then went away. And if you see a ragged line, line on April 1, it means it’s been partially cloudy. At times on that day, power output at Travers dropped like a stone from 464 megawatts to 122 megawatts in 50 minutes, only to shoot back up to 464 megawatts again. On April 2, 3, and now 4, the ragged, low peak of the graphs indicate mostly cloudy conditions, with no instances of where the full facility saw complete sunlight.

And that’s what was happening at noon on Tuesday. At 12:20, Travers was only putting out 349 megawatts, 116 megawatts less than full output. That’s the equivalent a little more than SaskPower’s Ermine Power Station at Kerrobert, a natural gas peaking station.

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And on days when wind power drops to next to nothing, as it had much of the last 24 hours, Alberta sees huge spikes in its pool price for power. At 8 a.m., when wind was low and solar had not yet come online, the pool price had risen to $900.48 per megawatt-hour, according to the AESO. It fell to $151.10 at noon, likely as solar had made an impact. But at 9 p.m. the previous night, as solar had gone off and wind generation was depressed, the pool price hit $872.74 per megawatt-hour.

That works out to 87.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in Alberta. To put that in perspective, SaskPower’s flat rate for residential usage is 14.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. And that’s Alberta’s bulk rate, not consumer rate.

And at 1 p.m., the Alberta pool price fell to $58.14 per megawatt-hour, or 5.8 cents per killowatt-hour.

Saskatchewan’s power market under SaskPower is closed, and its power production via power production agreements is largely under fixed rates. As such, Saskatchewan consumers are not exposed to such wild fluctuations in price as Alberta consumers are.

If you were having a late lunch, it was even worse. A little over an hour later, at 1:36 p.m., Alberta saw its wind power generation drop to 14 megawatts out of 3,618. That’s 0.38 per cent of nameplate capacity, or 38 ten-thousandths. Solar, however, had picked up to 784 megawatts, largely on the fact that the skies appeared to have cleared over Travers. It was now putting out around 381 megawatts.

Alberta’s total generation at 1:37 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. MC means maximum capacity, in megawatts. TNG is total net to the grid. DCR is dispatched and accepted contingency reserve. Note how wind production fell to 14 megawatts.
Alberta Electric System Operator.

 

At 1:36 p.m., wind was producing 14 megawatts and the coal-fired Genessee Unit 2 was putting out 423 megawatts. At that moment, that single, solidary coal unit was out-performing those 36 wind farms with hundreds of wind turbines by a factor of 26.4.

Despite all this, Alberta wasn’t too hard up for power, as it’s interchange with its neighbours fluctuated around 240 megawatts drawn from British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That’s about a third of what it is at times of high demand.

 

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Op-Ed: Saskatchewan Coal Transition Centre: Sabotaging our future: How SaskPower’s $1 billion scheme to import power from the U.S. will devastate Estevan and leave Saskatchewan’s economy vulnerable

SaskPower wants 3,647 megawatts of wind and solar. But early this morning, Alberta’s 4,783 MW of the same produced just 29 MW