Posted on August 28th, 2009 by Steve Aplin
If you promise something, you should deliver it. And sooner rather than later—especially if you engage in questionable PR tactics to win your case. I have argued in favour of governments financing both wind generation and nuclear generation (see article), but not because both are equally capable of providing zero-carbon electricity. They are plainly not equal: nuclear provides large-scale, cheap, on-demand power; wind provides small-scale, expensive, erratic power. Comparing the two is like comparing a top-level NHL hockey player to a mosquito-level beginner.
Now I love mosquito hockey. I used to play at that level myself, and there was nothing more important for me as a player than being cheered on by my family and friends. But even in my wildest pre-teen megalomaniac fantasies I never thought I should get the same paycheck as, say, Wayne Gretzky.
And yet the so-called green lobby, which pretends to offer solid energy policy advice, advocates something along these lines for the wind power industry. Though wind currently contributes only a minuscule amount of highly unreliable electricity to the Ontario grid—as I write this, Ontario wind generators are contributing one-tenth the electricity for which they are rated—wind companies are being paid eight times the going rate for electricity.
Is this worth it? The greens insist wind is an essential component of any climate change strategy, and that the exorbitant feed-in tariff is necessary in order to get the industry to the point where it is contributing significant amounts.
This is where public relations in the service of a good cause just breaks down. Wind can never contribute baseload (i.e., on-demand) power, no matter how many thousands of gigantic wind turbines there are. This means there must be massive amounts of backup power that are instantly available when the wind stops blowing. And that means natural gas. And for every kilowatt-hour it generates, natural gas emits 550 grams of carbon dioxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG).
All of which means that when the greens call for wind, they are really calling for natural gas. When Ontarians read newspaper headlines in 2015 saying that provincial GHGs are as bad as they ever were, they will wonder how they were so badly fooled by those who said wind is the answer to climate change.
That’s the difference between responsible and irresponsible PR. Nuclear can and will deliver the goods, wind can’t and won’t. So when nuclear advocates call for a climate change solution that includes wind, they are playing a responsible PR game. Anti-nuclear greens who call for wind are just not telling the truth.