The Core Business blog

To date most of our communications have been responsive and focused on correcting specific bits of misinformation.  But there are wider issues where organizations are alluding to things that are not correct on a broader scale.  We think those need correcting as well.  

One of the organizations that is routinely misleading the public is the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.  Their theme is that wind and solar can do everything and they spend a lot of time and money, (much of it coming from those that profit from wind and solar being successful)  trying to promote this idea.   It is unconscionable, as people who believe it could create system problems similar to the ones Alberta is experiencing and  the diversion of capital from projects that could make a difference.  And the availability of capital will be one of the, if not the,  primary challenge in the energy transition.  

The arguments that the OCAA use to support their ideas are conspicuously false and rely heavily on attacking nuclear power.  Their arguments, never technically sound, pander instead to allusions of “niceness”.  Sadly, this gives them some traction with the public and they use this traction to manipulate. 

We thought that it was time some of these lies were exposed but have struggled with how to do this without appearing to be attacking the sensible deployment of wind and solar.  They threw us an opportunity through a very poorly thought through promotional video and we had this Op-Ed published in the Hill Times.

Becalmed – the perfect metaphor for unreliable power in Ontario and the groups that promote it

Eagle-eyed sailors will note that the sailboat in the Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s (OCAA) new video is becalmed.  This hugely ironic image not only demonstrates precisely why the plan to triple wind and solar power generation will not work in Ontario, but it acts as a metaphor for a movement that has lost its way by refusing to open its eyes to its own challenges.

The remainder of the video, delivered in soft tones more suited to a day at the spa than a serious discussion about energy, misuses statistics to mislead and even includes some statements that are clearly not true. 

At one point, it states that “Great Lakes wind and solar alone could meet ALL (their capitals not ours) Ontario’s electricity needs”.  Ignoring the horror of what that would mean for our beautiful lakes, it is simply not true.  When the wind isn’t blowing it is not only boats that will be going nowhere, but it would also be our electricity system. 

The wind enthusiasts will try and argue that if the wind is not blowing in one place it will be blowing somewhere else so we will be OK.  But sailors and other weather watchers will know this isn’t true either. Calm conditions are typically a result of large, slow moving, high-pressure systems so that not only is no one nearby sailing anywhere but that they will remain becalmed for some time, maybe days, sometimes weeks.  Energy consuming landlubbers may not know this but it’s important that they do if they want to design reliable electricity systems.

The OCAA’s deception is not benign.  These weather systems also give rise to our days of peak electricity demand, the coldest days of winter and hottest, most sultry, days of summer.  The blackouts OCAA would be committing us to would not just cause discomfort, they would cause people to die.  Ask Albertans about this risk.  

Wind and solar, the unreliables, do have a place in electricity systems, that is why their use is growing, and targets are being set to increase their deployment. But these are generic targets aimed at regions with high emitting grids based on fossil fuel generation.  Here great gains can be made by curtailing fossil generation when wind and solar are available.  But while this can give an important quick result, it cannot get anyone to net zero.

Ontarians should not let a sweet voice whispering in their ear make them feel guilty that they have not achieved their wind and solar targets because those targets are irrelevant to a region that already has a world leading position in clean electricity generation.   Adding wind and solar would not mitigate many emissions as they will likely not be available to offset gas generation during the peaks.  Off setting nuclear or hydro generation, as they would, produces no emissions benefit.  

OCAA double down on their deceptions by suggesting that these unreliables could give rise to cheap electricity generation.  It is true that their power is cheap when it is available, but as Ontarians know to their cost this does not necessarily give rise to cheap electricity because of all the backing up that is needed.  To imply that it could is extremely disingenuous and could be very costly.

But the biggest deception is by omission.  The video fails to mention that the same people that set the target for wind and solar expansion also set targets for nuclear and that Ontario is well on its way to achieving them.  This expansion will not only give us the power we need but it will be emissions-free power available to us when we need it.  Contrary to the statements in the video, the refurbishments of our existing nuclear fleet will give rise to the lowest cost clean power and while we may not yet know the cost of new build it will enable us to expand electrification without risk of blackouts. 

Organizations like OCAA may have started with good intentions, but their fixation on favoured technologies has distracted them from the objective which is not to build more wind and solar but to reduce emissions. This is why these groups keeping jumping into boats that are going nowhere.  At some point they need to appreciate that they will have to use their engine and if that doesn’t use fossil fuels it will have to be nuclear.

Doddy Kastanya, President, Canadian Nuclear Society

Neil Alexander, Head of Communications, Canadian Nuclear Society