Visual data: wind power

wind map detailA highly scalable map [5 meg .pdf] of offshore wind farm installations in northwestern Europe shows how far behind Canada is in exploiting this renewable energy source.

The map detail at right is a static screen capture, at far less than maximum enlargement.

(The map is reminiscent of various offshore petroleum maps of Nova Scotia’s, an example of which can be downloaded here [400-k .pdf].Hat tip: Colin May.

Larry Hughes responds

A few weeks ago, I posted a critique of an opinion piece in the August 25 edition of [subscription required] by Prof. Larry Hughes of the Dalhouse University’s Computer Engineering Department. Hughes is currently toiling as a visiting professor of Global Energy Systems at Uppsala University in Sweden. Shockingly, Contrarian is not yet daily reading in that particular corner of Scandinavia, so he only recently learned of my comments. Hughes writes:

Contrary to what you have written, [my article in] has nothing to with NSP’s existing 2010 or 2013 requirements.  The article is about NSP’s new 25% renewables energy target for 2015 — this is made quite clear in the first two paragraphs.

The jumble of targets and deadlines set forth various provincial government plans, strategies, regulations for coping with climate change is confusing. Hughes is correct that I overlooked his emphasis on the NDP’s newly announced, and very tough, 2015 target of generating 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, but I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether this obviates my disagreement with several with his assertions.

No one thinks meeting the 2015 targets will be easy. Even if electricity demand remains flat between now and 2015, Hughes says NSP’s use of renewable energy “must grow from 1,068 GWh (gigawatt-hours) in 2008 to 2,919 GWh in 2015, an increase of 1,851 GWh.”

The Nova Scotia Power website gives slightly different figures. It puts renewable generation at 12 percent, or 1,560 GWh, of its total production of 13,000 GWh. That would leave a gap of 1690 GWh, assuming no growth. If NSP’s energy conservation and energy efficiency programs bear fruit, we could conceivably have consume less power by 2015.

No matter what route we take, it’s going to be a tough slog, which is another reason why the province should not be squandering $30 per year on subsidies to home energy consumption.

NIMBY Neck – more rebuttal

Alistair Watt writes:

The negative effects of living next to a wind power generating station have been known for some time. Consequently, to label opposition to them on that basis as NIMBY is unfair. Not In Anyone’s Back Yard (NIABY) would be more appropriate.

fiddling while earth burnsOK, let’s review. We have to do something about electrical generation in Nova Scotia, because we currently burn the dirtiest possible fuel, coal, to produce about 75 percent of our power, and greenhouse gasses pose a grave and urgent risk to the future of the planet.  However:

  • We can’t use hydro, because there are no big rivers left to exploit, and even if there were, dams kill fish and reservoirs wreck habitat.
  • We can’t use nuclear, because we’re not certain how to deal with the long-lived radioactive waste it produces.
  • We can’t use oil and gas, because they are only marginally better than coal.
  • We might not be able to use tidal, a technology that is at least a decade away from commercial development in any case, because it might change fish migration patterns.
  • We can’t burn waste wood, because doing so is inefficient, and will destroy the forests.
  • We can’t use wind because the noise bothers people, and the blades cause sunlight to flicker, possibly triggering epileptic seizures in rare susceptible individuals.

If one believes (as Contrarian does) that environmentalists have done society an enormous service by forcing climate change onto the world’s agenda as an imminent threat to the future of humanity, then what are we to make of the same environmental movement’s penchant for throwing up roadblocks to every conceivable solution? And to indulge anyone and everyone who masks aesthetic objections with trivial, exaggerated, or bogus claims of harm?

The neighborhood school is burning down, but we’re not going to send the fire trucks, because diesel fumes from their exhaust might give some of the children an asthma attack.

Prof. Hughes gets it wrong

larry Hughes-csTwo weeks ago,, the excellent online journal run by daughter-father team Caroline Wood and David Bentley, ran the latest in a series of occasional pieces by Larry Hughes, a computer engineering coordinator at Dalhousie University.

Hughes is something of an energy policy gadfly. He expects energy will soon be in short supply globally, so he places a lot of emphasis on energy security, by which he appears to mean energy produced within Nova Scotia.

Nevertheless, Hughes opposes Nova Scotia Power’s plan to mix wood waste with coal to burn in its thermal generating plants. His piece, in the August 25 edition of AllNS [subscription required], makes a concise, persuasive case that wood waste would be better deployed in home heating.

Unfortunately, Hughes’s argument is marred by a string of misstatements about wind generation in the opening paragraphs. After noting that NSP is scrambling to meet a legislated requirement for increased use of renewable energy by 2010, he adds, “Until recently, ministers and NSP insisted wind would easily fill the gap.”

In fact, the contracts NSP signed with independent wind producers two years ago would have easily filled the gap, but when the world economy went into a tail spin 13 months ago, several of the producers lost their financing. It’s been clear since then that NSP would be hard pressed to meet the timetable.

But Hughes puts the financial meltdown far down the list of factors behind wind’s inability to fill the gap.

At the top of the list he puts the grid’s limited capacity for intermittent power. This is simply incorrect. Two years ago, NSP and the Nova Scotia Department of Energy commissioned a Wind Integration Study to evaluate the grid’s capacity to absorb intermittent power sources.  It determined that the grid has enough capacity to handle the 2010 targets and, with careful management, the even greater requirements for 2013.

Beyond that, Hughes is right: If we want to keep ramping up our use of intermittent energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal beyond the legislated 2013 targets — and we do — Nova Scotia will soon have to invest very large sums to beef up our electrical grid.

Hughes also cited “the poor economics associated with wind in Nova Scotia.” In fact, the economics of wind power are better than average in Nova Scotia, because wind speeds are higher than average here. The price gap between wind and conventional energy sources has narrowed, and given the likelihood of future fuel price increases, it has probably already closed on a net present value basis.

Hughes also lists “multi-year delays” in wind turbine deliveries as a factor. That will come as news to Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica, a large Spanish wind turbine manufacturer. Gamesa announced in May that it would not meet sales targets because so many buyers had canceled purchases in the face of the economic meltdown.

In 2007. neither NSP, nor the Department of Energy, nor Larry Hughes, nor Parker Donham knew that the following summer, the world would experience the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Based on what we all knew then, the wind power contracts were a sensible approach to the need for more renewable energy. There is no need to invent reasons why it didn’t work out when the real reason is as clear now as it was unforeseeable then.

Finally, in describing the scramble to replace the likely-to-be unfulfilled wind power contracts, Hughes claimed that the province’s 2009 Energy Strategy expanded the term “renewable” to include “green” natural gas.

No it didn’t.

Natural gas is certainly the greenest of the ungreen fossil fuels, far less polluting and  GHG-genrating than coal or even oil. But the revised energy strategy does not reclassify it as a renewable energy source, and while its use could help NSP reduce emissions, but it will not contribute to meeting the legislated renewable energy targets.

[Disclosure: I know this because I had a hand in the revised strategy, having been under contract with the Department of Energy as a writer on the project.]

Contrarian would be pleased to publish a response from Prof. Hughes.

What the NDP’s tougher renewable energy targets mean

In a post yesterday Monday, contrarian observed that a little noticed NDP campaign promise would advance Nova Scotia Power’s renewable energy targets by five years. Today Tuesday, the new government made that promise official government policy. NSP must generate one quarter of its energy from renewable sources (hydro, wind, tidal, wave, solar, biomass, biofuel, or landfill gas) by 2015.

It’s certainly a laudable step, but how big a step is it? The answer to that is incredibly complicated.

It’s complicated because various stages of the renewable energy requirements imposed on NSP define renewable energy three different ways:

  • as overall generation from renewable sources;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia by companies other than NSP;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia, whether by NSP or third parties.

It’s still more complicated because the amount of generation from each of these sources can be measured in two ways: in absolute terms, as so many gigawatt-hours (GWH) of electricity; or in relative terms, as a percentage of NSP’s overall generation.

Bear in mind that the second yardstick is a moving target. If NSP’s efforts to curb electricity use (known as demand side management, or DSM) succeed in reducing our overall power consumption, a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours would constitute a larger percentage of that smaller consumption. If consumption of electricity falls, NSP could conceivably move from 12 percent renewables to 13 percent renewables without actually adding any new renewable energy to the grid. If one of our large industrial power users were to shut down—the NewPage mill at Point Tupper, for example—the percentage of NSP’s energy from renewable sources would shoot upward, even without NSP producing any new renewable energy.

So let’s walk through the various targets NSP has to meet.


Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001.

Newspapers and broadcasters sometimes misreport this target as stating that five percent of NSP’s generation must come from renewable sources. A Canadian Press story carried by the Herald made that mistake today. NSP already produces 11 to 12 percent of its overall generation from renewable sources, mainly hydro. The RES standard calls for five percent of new renewables owned by third parties. That would bring NSP’s overall use of renewables to something over 16 percent.

NSP forecasts that it will sell 12,200 GWH of energy in 2010. Five percent of that figure is 610 GWH. So to meet the 2010 target, NSP must generate 610 GWH from new, third-party, renewable sources.

Of the renewable energy NSP already uses, approximately 180 GWH qualifies under the 2010 RES rules. That leaves a shortfall of 430 GWH. In 2007, NSP put out requests for proposals that led to contracts with independent producers for 711 GWH of wind power—more than enough to meet and exceed the 2010 targets.

Unfortunately, the worldwide financial meltdown that hit late last summer has stalled or killed several of those projects. Environmental approvals have also been slower than hoped for, especially in parts of the province with strong NIMBY proclivities. To compensate for the possible shortfall, NSP, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp., and Strait Bio-Gen Ltd. cobbled together a slapdash proposal for a biomass generation project using wood waste, and then sought unprecedented prior approval from the Utility and Review Board for the scheme. To no one’s surprise but NSP’s, the UARB didn’t bite, so the utility’s ability to meet the 2010 target remains in serious doubt.

NSP still has one escape hatch. If it fails to meet the 2010 target, if can still comply with the regulations if it meets the target in 2011, and produces an additional amount of new renewable energy in 2011 equal to twice the amount of its 2010 shortfall.

Does your head hurt yet?


Two different standards apply to NSP in 2013:

  • Under the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (or EGSPA, pronounced, “Eggs-puh” by provincial bureaucrats), 18.5 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs must come from renewable sources by 2013. (This extraordinary act was the crowning achievement of former Environment Minister Mark Parent, defeated in the June election, and retired Deputy Minister Bill Lahey, who together somehow steered it through the Tory cabinet and won unanimous legislative approval.)
  • Under the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) regulations of the Electricity Act, the 2010 requirement for five percent new renewables increases to 10 percent in 2013, but this time it doesn’t all have to come from third parties. NSP can produce its own renewable energy.

Depending on overall energy consumption, meeting the RES regulations would bring NSP’s overall renewable production to something like 21 percent, well above the 18.5 percent required by Eggs-pah. (I love talking like a bureaucrat.) So the tougher RES standard rules the day. And that brings us to…


Acting Energy Minister Frank “Nanky” Corbett announced today that NSP would be required to produce 25 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2015, five years earlier than the Renewed Energy Strategy unveiled last winter would have required. [Disclosure: contrarian spent part of 2007 and much of 2008 under contract with the Department of Energy working on this strategy, mainly as a writer.]

On its face, this is a reasonable decision. It will keep the renewable portion of NSP’s generation increasing at about two percentage points per year, a pretty good clip. It’s much tougher than what the Tories had imposed.

It may also serve as cover for cutting NSP some slack on its probable failure to meet the 2010 standards. Asked about this today, an official of the provincial energy department said, “It’s going to be a challenge for Nova Scotia Power to meet the 2010 target. We’re looking at some different options for dealing with that, and this [relaxing the 2010 deadline] is one option we will present to government.”

“The point is that we need more renewables,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on this particular target.”

David Wheeler, Dean of Management Studies at Dalhousie University, will carry out a public consultation on how best to reach the tougher targets Corbett announced today.  Meeting them won’t be easy, or cheap. It’s a pity the NDP won’t have the $28 million it promised to spend subsidizing dirty, coal-fired eletricity to help with this crucial environmental task.

[Note: This is a long post (my longest ever) about an important but mind-numbingly tedious set of regulations and calculations. It shouldn’t astonish anyone if I got some of the details wrong. If any of contrarian‘s friends in the Department of Energy, the Ecology Action Centre, Nova Scotia Power, the independent wind industry, the Department of Environment, the NDP, or the PC Party have corrections or amplifications to offer, please click the “email a comment” tab at the top of this post.]

NS Power: the unreal threat of $500,000-a-day fines

NS Power logo - mediumLurking behind Nova Scotia Power’s increasingly frantic efforts to find renewable sources of electrical generation is the threat of a crushing $500,000-a-day fine should it fail to meet legislated targets for 2010. That works out to $183 million per year—half again what NSP earned its shareholders in 2008.

For better or for worse, the threat is symbolic, not real.

Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001. The RES requirement increases to 10 percent in 2013, but may include generation from both third party and NSPI facilities. The Climate Change Action Plan, released last January, would have increased this to 25 percent by 2020, but a little noticed NDP campaign promise trumps that provision, moving the 25 percent deadline up to 2015.

RES regulations stipulate “a daily penalty of no more than $500,000” for failure to comply.

Continue reading NS Power: the unreal threat of $500,000-a-day fines

UARB: feed-in tariffs require political, not regulatory, decision

The UARB says any decision to implement feed-in tariffs will have to come from government, not the board.

Feed-in tariffs would guarantee pre-set, above-market rates for alternative power producers who want to feed surplus power into the NSP grid at will. It is strongly advocated—surprise, surprise!—by companies like Neal Livingston’s Black River Wind, which have not been able to compete with large commercial wind producers in NSP’s bidding process, but stand to profit from guaranteed access to the grid at above-market prices. Continue reading UARB: feed-in tariffs require political, not regulatory, decision

Are windmills too noisy?

Crest Halifax has a thoughtful discussion about the problem of low frequency noise from windmills, and the illness some say it causes.

Of course it is possible that those reporting the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome are more sensitive to sound and vibration than most people, or even than detection instruments. It’s also possible that other factors are at work. Could the illness be, to some extent, psychosomatic in nature? Continue reading Are windmills too noisy?

Drinking the feed-in tariff Kool-Aid

In his latest Herald column, the normally estimable Ralph Surette drinks the feed-in tariff Kool-Aid. Moneyquote:

Check out how they’re doing it in Ontario and other out-front jurisdictions, where “feed-in” laws or “standard offer contracts” are in effect — in which the utility is required to take power produced by entrepreneurs at a fixed rate, no haggling. Wherever it’s been tried, there’s been an explosion of energy entrepreneurship and new jobs.

The [Nova Scotia Power] system of calling tenders one project at a time didn’t work elsewhere, and it hasn’t worked here.

Ralph makes a few good points in the column, but these two paragraphs contain more foolishness than enough.


Ontario passed a bill authorizing the Minister of Energy to permit the use of feed-in tariffs just six weeks ago, and the regulations haven’t been written yet. So it hasn’t produced “an explosion” of anything yet, except perhaps hyped expectations among the uncompetitive producers who have been pushing for such a law here. As for other jurisdictions, in North America, Ontario is it: the first state, province, or country to pass a feed-in tariff law.

As for tendered contracts not working, that will come as news to generations of good governance experts. Elsewhere in the same column, Ralph rightly criticizes NSP’s attempt to win Utility and Review Board approval for an untendered biomass project. Continue reading Drinking the feed-in tariff Kool-Aid

The sky’s not the limit for wind power. The grid is.


Kings South Green Party candidate and deputy leader Brendan MacNeill was the surprising star [*] of last night’s all-party environmental forum. The Acadia environmental studies major, who already has an environmental technology diploma, came across as thoughtful, poised, well-prepared, persuasive.

Unfortunately, like many Nova Scotia environmentalists, MacNeill has been seduced by the independent power producers’ self-serving lobby for guaranteed, above-market rates for their product. After the jump, a brief explanation of why this approach is wrong-headed for Nova Scotia.   Continue reading The sky’s not the limit for wind power. The grid is.