Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour hoopla fails to move Ontario: conservation proponents head back to the drawing board
At seven p.m. on Saturday, March 29, Ontario’s total electricity output was 17,375 megawatts. At eight p.m., Earth Hour, it was 17,536 MW, and an hour later it was 17,727. Power use increased from eight p.m. to nine p.m., and during that hour the fossil-fueled generators in the system put over 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the air.

Sorry, but the numbers don’t lie. Earth Hour had no effect on Ontario’s power consumption.

We could argue about whether a cold Saturday night is the best time to hold such an event. In my opinion, the best time would have been at 5 p.m. yesterday, when the provincial fossil-fired plants were helping meet the normal additional demand, plus covering for temporary nuclear generator outages. Emission intensity of Ontario power at that time was more than 300 grams per kilowatt-hour. Between five and six p.m. on Friday the 28th, GHG emissions were over 5,200 tonnes.

What’s the best way to reduce emissions? Conservation, or offsetting coal with non-emitting generation? And if the latter, what kind of non-emitting generation? Don’t forget that non-emitting generation has to meet electricity demand, which, as Earth Hour 2008 has proved, remains stubbornly constant in spite of massive media campaigns and high profile voluntary outages at big public buildings.

How much more proof do we need that lighting is just a bit player in electricity use? The irrelevance of Earth Hour 2008 in Ontario ought to show how irrelevant it is to ban incandescent lightbulbs in this province. As I pointed out in March 2007, banning incandescents is an irrelevant waste of time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feds cut nuclear deal with Ontario: buy all the reactors you want, as long as one is CANDU
Read between the lines, and you might get the impression that the Canadian federal government and Ontario have finally come to a deal on the next wave of nuclear investment in Ontario. Attentive readers will recall my speculation that the $538 million Paul Martin promised Dalton McGuinty back in May 2005 (just before the famous Belinda budget vote), ostensibly to help defray the costs of decommissioning Ontario’s four coal-fired power generating plants, will really go for a new CANDU plant.

Has it really happened? Readers will recall that the Ontario Liberals long said they would replace the 6,400 megawatts of provincial coal capacity with a mix of generation types, including 1,000 MW of new nuclear capacity. But the short-listed reactor manufacturers from whom Ontario recently asked for proposals were told the province really wants 3,500 MW of new nuclear.

Why did Ontario suddenly add the extra 2,500 MW?

I think it is because Ontario wants to make sure it gets that $538 million. Before the feds hand over the money, they want Ontario to buy at least one CANDU (manufactured by Atomic Energy Canada Limited, a federal crown corporation). That’s the quid pro quo. The extra megawatts allow Ontario to accommodate the federal demand and run the publicly-promised bona fide competition.

Is it a good deal? Of course it is. The historical record of Ontario electricity shows that non-hydro baseload generation is either nuclear or coal. If we use more nuclear, we use less coal. And we use more coal when there is less nuclear available. It’s that simple.

This was exactly the case as of eight o’clock this morning. At eight a.m. today, there were 8,618 MW of nuclear capacity in service, and 4,169 of coal. If either of the temporarily out-of-service Bruce units were available, nuclear capacity would have been over 9,300 MW and coal’s output would have been 3,400.

As it was, the emission intensity of Ontario’s electricity at 0800 a.m. today was 278 grams per kilowatt hour. Over one year at that rate, the provincial power sector would emit a whopping 41 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

And if the proposed 3,500 MW of nuclear were available at eight this morning? The emission intensity of Ontario power at 0800 a.m. today would have been 99 grams per kWh. Over a year at this rate Ontario power-sector emissions would be less than 15 million tonnes.

Readers who know their Kyoto numbers will instantly realize that the latter figure would be 10 million tonnes below the official Kyoto target for Ontario electricity generation.

Best of all, Ontario electricity consumers would never notice a difference in service.

The mechanism through which the $538 million might come was hinted at back in December, when the feds announced their new emission targets. There was an exchange in the Toronto Star about whether Ontario’s coal-plant phaseout would qualify for emission credits (see article).

Given the numbers I cited above, might the $538 million be in the form of emission credits?

Monday, March 17, 2008

India nuclear deal hangs on PM’s communication skills: lessons for Canada
Anyone interested in the communication dynamics of minority parliaments—and political/technical communication in general—should watch for the outcome of negotiations between India’s ruling UPA and its communist coalition partners over the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal. These negotiations occur as I write this (mid-morning Ottawa time, early evening New Delhi time).

It is a true nail-biter. This deal has been in the works since 2005, and represents the most significant shift in U.S.-India relations since 1974. If it comes to fruition, India will be a nuclear weapons state, and civilian nuclear trade on a grand scale will commence with the rest of the world.

The Americans have hoped since the end of the Cold War to make India a strong ally, and this is the closest they have come. And since they are the ones who have driven the effort to open India to opportunities that other nuclear-trading nations could seize, they also want to make sure the U.S. nuclear industry gets its fair share of these opportunities. Their bargaining position reflects this.

The challenge for India’s government is that its left-wing coalition partners—the Communist Party of India and its Marxist offshoot—are anti-American. This means that the sheer complexity of the negotiations not only with the U.S. but also with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives the leftists ample opportunity to make their mark. They have said that the draft safeguards agreement with the IAEA is “too technical” and that in any case their problem is with the U.S. deal not safeguards negotiations with the IAEA (though successful conclusion of the latter is a condition of the former).

This means government negotiators have to spin the deal as one with the world, and not just the U.S. Moreover, their spin has to satisfy not just the leftists but other commentators who, like B.S. Raghavan, are well informed on the technicalities of the deal and still don’t like it. The future of the current Indian government therefore hangs on how well the PM, Manmohan Singh, and his colleagues use their communication skills. Singh is one of the very best in the game, so it will be interesting.

If Singh and his colleagues succeed, Canada will soon be called upon to support the deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (whose consent is another condition for the U.S.-India deal’s success). If our position is that we do support it, how will our own government sell it to the Liberals, given that the NDP and Bloc will surely cite the history of our relations with India—see article—as justification to oppose it?

Watch and learn.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Canadian government’s nuclear-friendly rules set the stage for new wave of power investment
As I advocated back in December and many times before (see article), the Canadian federal government will allow Ontario to offset greenhouse gas emissions from the provincial coal-fired generating plants with nuclear power. This means that Ontario Power Generation—the company that owns and operates the four coal plants—will be assessed on the basis of company-wide emissions. OPG can continue offering coal-generated power to the market, and can offset coal emissions with power from plants that emit less, or no, emissions. Recent Ontario history proves the best and most economical form of non-emitting generation is nuclear.

I have also predicted that OPG, and the new federal rules governing its emissions, are a model for other power utilities whose fleets include coal-fired generators. Coal dominates Alberta’s de-regulated power system, which emitted more than 52 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2004—fifty
percent more than Ontario’s, which generated two-and-a-half times as much power. I hope the feds are negotiating similar rules with Alberta, because this would allow Alberta coal utilities to purchase offsets from less-emitting generating companies elsewhere in Canada. Eventually, it should be possible to do this anywhere in North America.

If the rules allow less-emitting generation to offset coal generation, the nuclear renaissance will become a reality. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects seventeen U.S. utility companies to submit twenty construction and operating license applications for thirty-one new reactors. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission expects similar applications for new Ontario plants.

North American power sector emissions will drop if a greater proportion of the continental generator fleet goes nuclear. Offset rules will help accomplish this.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

“Transparent and accountable decision making”: has Greenpeace abandoned its anti-nuclear position?
Two days ago, Greenpeace’s nuclear point-man in Canada, Shawn-Patrick Stensil, told the Toronto Star he thinks creating a short-list of reactor makers will save Ontario time and money as it embarks on a new wave of nuclear generation investment.

He didn’t say Ontario should never have gone nuclear in the first place—which has been Greenpeace’s line since the group was formed thirty-seven years ago—or that Ontario should replace nuclear and coal plants with renewables and conservation.

Has Greenpeace climbed off its anti-nuclear position? Not according to an activist I spoke to yesterday. But Stensil’s comment speaks for itself. When the chief anti-nuclear group passes on an opportunity to advertise cherished dogma, you have to wonder if maybe they’ve acquired some intellectual flexibility over the past while.

It all comes down to the value you place on a tonne of carbon dioxide. Mainstream greens, almost all of them anti-nuclear, have been the loudest voice in favour of meeting Kyoto targets. Their problem is that the hated atom produced a 15 million tonne reduction in Ontario’s power-sector greenhouse gases (GHGs) between 2003 and 2006. This was the biggest reduction in any industrial sector anywhere in North America since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

This has produced a policy crisis for the part of the green lobby that is active on the Ontario electricity file. Plan A, the phaseout of Ontario coal generation and its replacement with natural gas–fired generation, went down the tubes in 2003 when the price of gas went above $5 per million Btu and stayed there. Plan B, a call for renewables coupled with energy conservation and efficiency, was instantly discredited as futile and expensive. Meanwhile, Ontario’s proportional shift from coal to nuclear produced the 15 million tonne reduction—without the closure of a single proscribed coal plant. The greens must have known that sooner or later they would just have to face facts.

Have they reached that point? Stensil’s remark suggests they have.