Green policies offer fascinating case study in the difference between real PR and fake PR

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.

Canadian Energy Issues © 2009, by Steve Aplin. Mr. Aplin is Vice President of Energy and Environment at The HDP Group, an Ottawa-based management consultancy. He is an expert on the implications of environmental policy for the energy sector. The views represented in these posts are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of The HDP Group Inc. Mr. Aplin also publishes a new power production and emission tracking website, Electric Power Statistics. You can contact him at 1+(613) 567-5300.

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7 responses to “Green policies offer fascinating case study in the difference between real PR and fake PR

  1. After reading several of these kinds of reports on Wind Energy, I don’t understand why the Ontario public is not in an uproar and pushing down their MPP’s doors. We need to stop this madness. I have been researching this subject now for over 2 years, and no where can I find that wind 1) can add significant supplies of clean energy which is technically, economically and environmentally sound, 2) can meet the standards of existing electrical sources for reliability, predictability, dispatchability, cost and environmental impact. 3) will provide long term “green” jobs that will not displace jobs in other sectors 4) will not burden economic growth with disproportionate electricity rates and tax benefits 5) will not put people in harms way due to infrasound and low frequency noises 6) not atrophy the land base needed for production of our food 7) add to farmers bottom line for long term sustainability of the family farm most importantly, cannot materially reduce GHG emissions. Based on all of this, then why are we allowing this McGuinty gov’t to move ahead on the GEA and its draconian policies which stiffle the input from those who must live with these inefficient, inexcusable, excuses for green energy, especially when these so-called green businesses are seeking such large public monies ? What will it take to get the Ontario public to speak up about how we are being abused? More information? Try http://www.windconcernsontario.org. Will the public go there ? Probably not. Because they won’t take action when they are being poorly represented. Let me fill you in; Bureaucrats and gov’t officials interpret this apathy as a green light to go ahead and squeeze you for even more.

    What I can assure you is that when the province puts Billions of dollars on the table (like they are doing here) lobbyists such as CanWEA go to Toronto and write letters, send in donations, smooze our officials with clever PR etc. In response our gov’t officials, whose sole purpose is to serve the public, knee jerk react with no scientific adjudication of the claims, just a simple “how does the public view this and will it get me votes”

    So that’s your choice: get educated and speak up to represent yourself, or let self-serving profiteers continue to run our government.
    All I can do is hope Ontario gets the message soon before we add further to our economic crisis with ill conceived funding to a sector that has been tearing apart rural communities, families and their homes.

  2. I don’t have anything intrinsically against nuclear power, I do believe it’s required to keep the world of today moving. To be clear though nuclear power does not provide “on demand” power. You turn on the reactor and after a few days to weeks of slow and careful build up you can generate X amount of electricity. Thereafter, night and day you are generating X electricity, much of which can go to waste. Also, to pretend that nuclear plants do not get any sort of subsidies is mis-representative at best. Let’s not forget that nuclear reactors have NIMBY issues that wind turbines can’t touch.

    For quick power up in high demand times natural gas is your only real option. Interestingly though, that’s the way it’s always been, no matter how many nuclear or coal generating stations you have: in peak times gas generating stations get fired up. That would therefore not be all that different with a significant portion of wind generating capability.

    To say that currently wind power is generating only 1/10th of its rated capacity means little. Is it currently rated for stations that are not built? Do ratings for power generation build in large padding to ensure the hook-ups can handle large spikes? Without asking critical questions it’s pretty easy to take numbers out of context.

    Now, let’s look are your comments more directly:

    1) Without reasonable efforts to start the wind industry then of course it will never be economical sound. I don’t understand calling wind power not technically or environmentally sound.

    2) Again, without the investment and development of knowledge of course wind will never get there in terms of cost. Wind and solar will never be perfect sources of power in terms of availability, no argument there. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take advantage of it. Again, putting any sort of environmental aspersions against wind compared to existing technologies like coal seems odd, you’ll need to explain this to me.

    3) I have no idea what you’re getting at here. Tower maintenance jobs are long term. Displacing “old” jobs is what happens in the real world as technology changes. Should we get rid of computers so that type-writer repair people can get more work?

    4) Putting an economic “burden” on companies will force them to waste and use less energy in the long run. This is a good thing. Forcing the world to use less energy benefits everyone in the end. Companies that do not keep up will close, that is sad, but inevitable in any market based economy. Let’s be clear: the status quo will have a huge negative impact on the economy in the long run, most estimates run well into the trillions.

    5) There is no evidence anywhere that is taken seriously on any of these issues. It’s a wonderful conspiracy theory but little more. This is a solid case where a couple of bits of circumstantial evidence look like real evidence to those who are looking for it.

    6) Once a tower is running it takes about 1 acre of land. A housing development takes up tens to hundreds of acres. A nuclear power station can take up thousands of acres. Turbines give farmers an extra source of reliable long term income which helps them to keep their farms rather then sell them for housing developments. Obviously this logic mostly applies to farms near cities, but that’s still many farms. Getting rid of ethanol based fuels will do far more for food production than getting rid of turbines.

    7) Farm families get a cheque every month for turbines on their land. What more can you want for long term sustainability? I don’t see the argument here.

    Dialling down the rhetoric may help you see some balance in the issues. Nothing is black and white, certainly not wind turbines, but it’s a reasonably light shade of grey in this case.

  3. Well Sam you obviously want to play semantics. I never said Nuclear provided “on demand” power, however we should understand that Nuclear when online other than for repairs, is there 24/7. The same cannot be said for wind which must rely on largely fossil fuel generation to compensate for it’s intermittency.
    As for the arguments about subsidies, perhaps you can enlighten me exactly what those subsidies are all about and compare one source to the other. What you will find is that wind receives the largest subsidies. As for indicating that x amount of energy can go to waste with nuclear, I believe you are relating to the fact that demand has gone down, but guess what these generators have to pay to stay online and in Ontario for the period of Jan to June this year (2009) we had a negative price base. Does Wind energy share in this same negative price. NO! because of their exclusive contracts they continue with their subsidized rates when they should be shut down because of their high cost. As for the NIMBY issues surrounding nuclear,
    The operation of nuclear reactors in our country poses no significant risk to Canadians and expansion of the nuclear base will help to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels

  4. It’s challenging to discuss subsidies for nuclear power since no new nuclear power stations have been built in Ontario for over 20 years. The closest we can come to a figure for this is the $1 billion that goes toward Ontario Hydro’s $19.3 billion in stranded nuclear debt. Beyond that hydro generation gets a $1.9 billion subsidy. In total there are about $8 billion paid in subsidies in Ontario. It’s all detailed on page 8:

    http://www.cleanairalliance.org/files/active/0/taxshift.pdf

    There have been 2 significant nuclear reactor accidents: Chernobyl and 3 mile island. I grant that Chernobyl was a totally different design than a Candu reactor. However, Chernobyl directly killed 56 people and forced the resettlement of 210,000. (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.html). While 3 mile island was far less severe it still forced the evacuation of 140,000 and cost just shy of $1 billion to clean up. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident#Voluntary_evacuation).

    As I said in my initial post, I believe in nuclear energy and I like it, but to say it poses no significant threat sounds like it came straight from a nuclear industry pamphlet. You have to concede that NIMBY issues around nuclear plants are far more significant than wind farms since the consequences of a problem are much more far reaching.

  5. How can you say that nuclear reactors in our country pose no significant risk to Canadians?? Are you doing PR for the nuclear industry? Some of the largest industrial accidents that the world has seen have come from nuclear energy. Have thousands of people had be evacuated from areas because a windmill blew-up and caused the area to be uninhabitable for years. Can wind energy cause birth defects for generations?
    Are you willing to put a nuclear reactor on your land or even your neighbours land rather than a wind turbine??
    Every source of power has downfalls but saying that nuclear is better than wind?? This is a very uneducated view.

  6. Nuclear has been in Ontario for 50 years. No I am not doing PR for the nuclear industry. In trying to make sense of our energy situation, I’ve come to realize that Nuclear has received a very bad PR job. The amount of radiation people received at 3 Mile Island was less than having a lifetime of x-rays one gets for regular medical screening. As for Chernobyl, this is what happens when a gov’t and economy falls apart and in order to avoid gov’t spending, safety measures are sacrificed. Please understand putting up thousands of wind turbines will never replace the need to have highly efficient energy sources like Nuclear nor will they ever replace fossil fuel generation. Have a look at the OPA website, nuclear is in the plans for Ontario’s future. 55% of all new MW slated in the future is coming from Natural Gas. You should also realize the likelyhood of a wind turbine blowing up 600 meters from my door is much greater than a nuclear fall-out for anybody living near Darlington, Bruce or Pickering. I guess that’s all right when people like yourself don’t have to live with that possibility.

  7. I never said Nuclear did not pose a significant risk. No one contests that a nuclear reaction is very dangerous but again with 50 years of Ontario Nuclear, that has allowed this great province to move forward and prosper because of abundant, reliable and cheap energy, compare that to inefficient, intermittent wind and solar, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

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