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Wind, solar costs are overblown, expert says

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Marco Vigliotti

While solar and wind energy have played in role in inflating electricity prices in Ontario, the bulk of those increases are attributable to work on aging nuclear facilities and new natural gas plants, a Sarnia energy expert says.

Peter R. Smith, an Ontario-based consultant, says wind and solar generation added only 3.3% to 5% to delivered electricity costs in 2013, while providing about 4.5% of the total electricity consumed.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of the increase in costs that we have seen in recent years is the result of refurbishing the nuclear plants and the new natural gas-fired plants,” he said, adding wind and solar use in 2013 resulted in a reduction in CO2 emissions of about two million tonnes compared to natural gas.

“It’s a little unfair to put all of the weight on wind and solar,” he said.

A new study by the Fraser Institute, however, estimates that solar and wind generation actually accounts for about 20 percent of the average commodity cost in Ontario, while providing just under 4 percent of the power.

No reductions in power prices can occur, according to the study, without the Ontario government imposing a moratorium on new wind and solar contracts.

But addressing a recent meeting in Point Edward of the local chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario, Smith said the heated political nature of the electricity debate has produced some “outlandish” claims from provincial politicians.

“Some of the politicians are really not connected to the real data and the real issues of prices,” he said.

The debate erupted after the provincial Liberal government’s passage of the contentious Green Energy Act (GEA) in 2009.

Opponents of the act point to the high feed-in-tariff prices guaranteed by the government to stimulate alternative energy development as a source of rising electricity price hikes.

Smith, however, said Ontario’s electricity prices are not greatly out-of-sync with other developed nations, even with recent price increases.

“Yes, (prices) have gone up from where it was and that shocked everybody,” he said. “But, if you look at a lot of jurisdictions across the world, they pay a lot higher for electricity.”

Ontarians, Smith claims, are wasteful when it comes to electricity – a tendency he says might be corrected by higher prices.

As for potential solutions, Smith proposes Ontario cooperate with Quebec and better integrate the province’s power grid with their hydroelectric powerhouse neighbour.

“We need to put in place a more robust agreement (with Quebec)…for working out what’s best for the two of us,” he added.

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