The Ferndale Wind Project

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

This Blog has moved

To www.biofuels.coop/windblog/. This lets my blog be co-hosted on the same site as my brother Lyle, who has a bio-diesel blog.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why less is more

The Ferndale wind project will be expanded with 2 Vestas V82's late this year. The current project has a single V80. What is the difference between these models?

The current V80 has a 1.8 Megawatt (MW) generator with 40 metre blades. That means that its peak production is 1.8 MW when the winds are above about 50 km/hour. It has a cut in wind speed of 4 m/sec (13 km/hour), and a cut out wind speed of 25 m/sec (90 km/hour). So when winds are low, it produces nothing, and then it produces an increasing amount as the winds increase. Above 14 m/sec, the blades pitch to let some of the wind pass, and it generates at 1.8 MW.

The new V82's have a 1.65 MW generator. Most people assume that this means it will produce less power than the 1.8 MW V80. But in this location, and in most of Ontario, with its wind resource, this is not the case. The V82 has a 41 m blade, and so it has more swept area. In fact, the swept area is more than 250 m larger, or 5%. This means that the turbine will produce more power at low wind speeds. For example, at 7 m/sec wind speed, the V80 will produce 412 KW, and the V82's will produce 432 KW.

The V82 has a cut in wind speed of 3.5 m/sec. And while this seems to be pretty close the V80's 4 m/sec, the winds at this location are between 3.5 and 4 m/sec about 6% of the time. The V82 has a cut out wind speed of 20 m/sec, compared to the 25 m/sec for the V80. But the wind speeds are rarely over 20 m/sec. The V80 lost about 90 minutes of production in the last year from wind speeds over 25 m/sec.

The overall impact on production, with the lower cut in wind speed, more agressive power production in low winds, and including loss of production above 20m/sec means the V82 should produce about 4%-5% more power than the V80. And the installed cost of the turbines is about the same.

Another interesting impact from introducing the new models will be its effect on the percentage of time the wind farm is producing at least some power. In the past 12 months, the current turbine produced power 68% of the time. Downtime for maintenance, power outages, high wind events, and low wind events account for the rest of the time. The addition of 2 turbines will naturally improve this number, since we are unlikely to be performing maintenance on all three turbines at once. But the new model turbines will also increase the percentage by the 6% of the time that the wind is between 3.5 and 4 m/sec. Overall, the wind farm is likely to be producing at least some power about 80% of the time.

Utility planners often unfairly criticize wind as an intermittent resource that can't be relied on. They use this as an argument in favour of building new fossil fuel stations, since they can be powered up and down as needed. But in this small wind farm, you can see that the intermittency is substantially reduced simply by equipment selection.

Of course, diversifying the locations of wind turbines across a large province like Ontario would reduce the intermittency even further, since the winds are at different speeds in different geographical locations. As I write this, the wind speed in Goderich is 26 km/hour, and in Wiarton and Toronto it is 11 km/h, and in Kingston it is 7 km/hour.

Equipment diversity, and geographic diversity can do much to firm the output from wind turbines.

And sometimes, less is more.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hybrid cars

I drove to Guelph today to see my folks, and to give a talk to the SENSA group at the Arboretum Village tomorrow.

Gas prices on the way down were as low as $1.03/litre, but as high as $1.06. I drove past a few horse drawn mennonite buggies on the way. I wonder if they know how sustainable their lifestyle is. I suspect the price of gas and hay has not gone up much.

I drive a Honda Insight, Honda's first hybrid car. There was a nice tailwind today, and I averaged 3.3 l/100 km. That's over 80 mile/imperial gallon. The car is rated at 3.3 highway, and 3.9 city. I have averaged 4.1 l/100 km since I owned the car.

I have driven the car since Feb 2001, and have gone 220,000 km. The batteries have never needed replacing, and other than a problem with the latch on the hatch, oil changes, and tires, it has required no maintenance. You should have no fear of the hybrid cars from Honda.

It is interesting how you can sometimes influence others, without really trying. An Insight draws attention because of its distinct look, so I have talked to many folks about it. It isn't just the hybrid gas/electric that makes it efficient. It is the good aerodynamics, intelligent use of plastic and aluminum to reduce weight - the car weighs 1800 lbs-, regenerative braking that takes the energy normal lost in brake pad friction and instead generates electricity to store in the battery, and narrow tires to reduce road friction. We've known about aerodynamics for years. We know about batteries. And electric engines. And tire friction. And we have used regenerative braking on electric trains in Europe for 50 years. It is old established technologies put together in an intelligent way. What is the risk in that?

Since I bought my hybrid, two of my brothers have bought them - a Civic Hybrid and a Prius. Mine gets the best mileage, so I can still accuse them of driving energy pigs. That's important in a competitive family like mine.

My neighbour across the street bought a Civic Hybrid. Friends of mine in Toronto bought the Toyota Pathfinder hybrid. Another friend bought another Civic. All because they saw mine, and I talked about it. Who says one person can't make a difference?

The Consumers reports were apparently harshly critical of hybrids because they didn't get the mileage they claimed. But the mileage claimed by the carmakers isn't their claim. It is Transport Canada and the EPA. And no car gets the mileage claimed, although deisels are apparently closer to the ratings. Over all, I would say the decision to buy a hybrid is a sound one. They are economical to drive, and walk a bit lighter on the planet.

If you don't have a horse and buggy, and can't always ride a bike, drive a hybrid.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Commodity Prices

The run up in commodity prices is affecting the cost of installing wind turbines.

The expansion of the Ferndale project will require 3 X 1600 m of buried cable. So that's 4800 m. Last year, the price of cable was $7-8/m. Today, the price is $13/m. Copper prices have risen from just over 50 cents/lb. to over $3/lb in the past 4 years. The price of resin used in the cable sheath soared as well, as some of the resin plants in the Gulf were damaged in Katrina. Aluminum prices, which can be used as an alternative to copper, have risen from 60 cents to over $1.20/lb.

Fortunately, this is a fairly small project, compared to some of the giant wind farms being installed, or some subdivisions, that can use a similar cable for trunk lines. I was able to purchase some surplus from other projects to complete mine, and the price is coming in at $7/m. Installation is of course extra. Much like a small room can use remnant carpet at much lower prices, a small wind installation can sometimes get the same benefit. Big isn't always cheapest.

It is very interesting that resin prices are still being blamed on Katrina. CNN.com had an article today about a US government scientist who is blaming the 2005 hurricane season on climate change. http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/04/25/global.warming.hurricanes.reut/index.html

Evidently climate change is not without cost.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ontario Energy Board Trials

Joseph Heller couldn't have written a better novel. But this story, sadly, is true.

Electricity projects connected to distribution lines in the Hydro One territory have to pay a fixed monthly fee just to be connected. In addition, they pay for any electricity they use, the debt recovery charge on that electricity, the transmission charge, the distribution charge, and demand charges. The Ferndale turbine uses about 2000 kWh/month, similar to a large house, and pays about $450/month in total, which is a lot more than a large house.

The main reason the charges are so high is that the turbine is connected to the 44KV feeder line. The fixed monthly charge on this is $250/month. Needless to say, this high fee is a deterrent to people building new generation capacity on such lines.

A similar project connected to transmission lines (115KV or higher) pays no fixed monthly fee. And a similar project connected to 27.6 KV lines pays just $39/mo. Fairness is not part of Hydro One's tariff structure.

Two years ago, recognizing that this fee was a deterrent to new projects, I approached Hydro One to see what could be done to get it changed. I explained that projects like mine, where all of the power is used locally on its feeder, reduces line losses, since when the wind is blowing, the Bruce Peninsula is not supplied from afar. Line losses in rural Ontario average 9%, and the consumer pays for them. I explained that I paid 100% of any connection cost as required by market rules, including the cost of a study to confirm that I could be connected. My connection requires no incremental capital to be deployed by Hydro One. I paid for the meters. I pay for the phone line so they can read it. I paid for the taller pole across the road. But they get the $250/month whether I use power or not. Their only cost is to read the meter, which is automated, and send an invoice.

They agreed with me. My project was good for the system, and they have no incremental cost.

"So, can you change the rate?", I asked. "No, we only charge what we are told to charge by the regulator (the Ontario Energy Board - OEB)".

So, after several telephone discussions, I arrange a meeting with the OEB staff. I explain that this type of project reduces line losses. It is compatible with the government's stated objective of enabling distributed generation projects like mine, and that Hydro One has no incremental costs. They agree with me, and tell me to write a letter to their Director. Finally, the Director tells staff to respond.

"We don't set rates. We only approve what a Local Distribution Company applies for,", they say. "So, since you agree this needs changing, how do I get Hydro One to apply for a rate change?" I ask. "You would have to speak to their owner - the Ministry of Energy."

So, I contact the Ministry of Energy. Once I find the right person, I explain the situation. They agree with me. And I am asked to write a letter outlining my position. I write the letter, and cc: the OEB staff, and Hydro One. I request a meeting with the appropriate decision maker, who is an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM). I wait for a meeting. I call. I wait. I call. I wait some more.

Finally I call Marion Fraser, staff advisor to the Ministry of Energy, and Donna Cansfield, who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy. I quickly get a meeting, and it includes the ADM. The meeting participants agree to convene a meeting with Hydro One and OEB staff to try to plan a course of action. The meeting is convened within 2 weks. In the meeting, Hydro One is asked pointedly and directly by the Ministry what action they will take. They indicate that perhaps this could perhaps be integrated into their 2006 rate application.

I leave, happy that this problem is about to be solved.

The 2006 rate application comes out. I scan it excitedly to see if this issue is in it. I can't find it. So I call Hydro One to enquire as to where it might be. I receive a prompt and polite call back, and am informed that it is not in the application. Apparently they were concerned that this little issue could derail their overall application, which of course is vast.

Needless to say, I go ballistic, emailing everyone who has been involved with this file (there are about 15 people so far). Hydro One's total revenues from their distribution connections for generators are $160,000 per year. This is a $4 billion/year company. They spend more than that on paper clips on Monday morning. This works out to about 1 cent per month per direct customer per month. And my project alone reduces line losses by about $10,000 per year, saving ratepayers far more than they would give up in revenue.

The Ministry makes pointed enquiries at senior levels in Hydro One. After more delay, Hydro One informs me that they will be making a application for an interim rate change. Within a couple more months, Hydro One's application to change their rate for generators appears.

So far so good. Now we just need OEB approval.

The OEB process is rather peculiar. It is an "open and transparent" process. I guess that is good. So Hydro One's rate application is posted on their web site. And people are allowed to provide submissions to the OEB on specific timelines. People who do this are called "Intervenors". An Intervenor can apply for costs from the Board. That means that the Board will direct that Hydro One will pay their costs of hiring consultants or lawyers to make the submission. Costs are rarely awarded for people who will benefit from a ruling, like my firm. But outsiders can apply for costs.

As this was viewed as a routine relatively small issue, all intervenors agreed that a written hearing was appropriate. First, the OEB staff asks Hydro One some questions, in writing, to which Hydro One responds. Then intervenors supply their questions, and the answers to all are distributed. Finally, intervenors provide submissions. On this little tariff issue, the Board had 8 intervenors. Evidently there is a cottage industry of legal and consulting firms that make a living asking for and claiming costs. The Vulnerable Enery Consumers Coalition was worried about the impact this application would have on rates. Evidently there are thousands of consumers who will be sunk by 1 cent/month. The School Energy Coalition weighed in. I guess schools will be sunk too. And the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

Does the OEB hold hearings on the Hydro One paperclip budget?

Finally, the board hearing results are published. They turned down Hydro One's application for interim rate relief. So the rates remain unchanged. The Vulnerable Energy Coalition arguments won. But their consumers will lose, because there will be less line loss reductions, because there will be less projects built. The announcement of this ruling was made the same week than the OEB announced that rates for energy consumers in the Province would be going up by 17%.

The Board quoted the Vulnerable Energy Consumers. "Investment in distributed generation is a long- term investment and reducing rates in the short- term while there is continuing uncertaintly as to what rate generators will ultimately pay over the long term is unlikely to have a significant impact on the development of new generation in the province."
http://www.oeb.gov.on.ca/documents/cases/EB-2005-0528/dec_honi_190406.pdf

So there you have it. Lower prices to connect will not help get more distributed generation.

There is a silver lining. The Board did instruct Hydro One to develop cost estimates for use on designing their 2007 rate application. So that's the next step - to engage in a stakeholders process, with the hours that entails. Here we go again.

Joseph Heller, eat your heart out.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tim Flannery, "We can't let oil companies cook the planet."

On Thursday I was a guest of Bullfrog Power at a talk by Tim Flannery, author of The Weathermakers, a comprehensive look at the state of climate science. It was held at the OISE auditorium in Toronto, and was sold out with over 700 in the audience. Bob MacDonald, of CBC's Quirks and Quarks interviewed Flannery on stage, after being introduced by Jack Layton.

In a powerful introduction, Mr. Layton said that he had given a copy of the book to Stephen Harper in his first meeting with him. In his second meeting, he asked how the reading assignment was going. The book was on his desk, but had yet to be opened. Let's hope he gets to it.

Flannery said that his generation asked their fathers what they did during the war. Our kids will ask us what we did about climate change.

It was a remarkable evening. 700 people gave a standing ovation to Tim Flannery and Bob MacDonald. I think it was not for the power of the presentation. It was for the power of the message.

It is clear to me that the people are way ahead of the politicians on the issue of climate change.

The following is a review of the book.

The Weathermakers, Tim Flannery, Harper Collins publisher.
Theweathermakers.ca

This is the single most comprehensive and readable book on climate change there is. Australian author Tim Flannery brings together all aspects of climate science in a hard hitting book, that outlines the great danger humans face if we ignore this challenge.

From the tragedy of the extinction of Costa Rica's golden toad, to drought and famine in the Sahel region of Africa, to the salinization of millions of acres of wheat fields in Western Australia due to changing rainfall patterns, to the vanishing mountain glaciers with their impact on drinking water supply, to the 2005 hurricane season, Flannery makes a compelling case that climate change is real, that it is happening now, and that the evidence is building that it will be worse than the experts are currently predicting. (Expert opinion is governed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issues reports based on scientific consensus - surely a recipe for conservatism).

The book touches on solutions, but only in a cursory way. But the book's value is in building a compelling case for taking action at both a personal and governmental level. The solutions are for others to articulate. But know this: They are there.

This is the book that reportedly caused the Prime Minister of Australia to change his mind about climate change. A must read for all citizens concerned about the future of the planet, and ourselves.