Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
17° Light Rainshower

Blowing in the Wind

I’m tired of hearing about Tesla fires.

If you’ve made it through this issue of the Gazette, you may be aware that I am the owner of an Electric Vehicle. It has not yet burst into flames. It is, in fact, apart from a dent I put into it almost immediately after picking it up from the dealership, doing quite nicely. I estimate that it will have paid for itself in gas savings by the end of a decade or so.

Assuming it doesn’t burst into flames first.

I think it’s great that the County is taking steps to make EV ownership easier by installing chargers. It’s a small step, but it’s in the right direction.

Speaking of things bursting into flames, and steps in the right direction, I want to talk about Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS). I written about this before, but it has come up again.

In last week’s editorial, we drew a portrait of Ontario’s energy policy as falling behind in its plans for renewable resources.

In July, the government’s energy plan stressed a need to expand gas-generated electricity in the near term while it refurbished its nuclear fleet.

In December, it pivoted. Ontario is now going renewable. It clearly recognizes we’re not going to hit any net-zero targets for 2035 or even 2050 by building new gas plants. Although I wish that politics had not literally undone advances in developing renewable energy infrastructure five years ago, at least now we have public acknowledgment that this is the way forward.

Of course, this acknowledgment also coincides with a washing of hands. The government can talk as green as it likes, but it has also offloaded the decision-making onto municipalities. As our local MPP, Energy Minister Todd Smith, said to the Gazette: “If council says no, it does not go.” Are they having their cake and eating it too? Is the sustainability and resilience of the entire provincial grid to be made subject to a “Not In My Back Yard” argument?

Aren’t the local communities who reject renewable infrastructure also washing their hands? “I want clean and green electricity, but I don’t want to generate or store it!”

This is not just a local concern. It is global. In December, Minister Smith travelled to Dubai to participate in COP 28, the international climate change conference. At this meeting, the Government of Canada and 129 other nations called for a tripling of renewable power generation by 2035. As residents of the County, as Ontarians, as Canadians and as members of the human race, we all need to do our part. How can we contribute to making this happen?

Wind turbines are unpopular, in part because of the way in which private capital implements them. One household gets paid, but a neighbour, who is just as close to the thing, does not. I suspect that most arguments against wind power originate in this basic instinct. After all, cats kill nearly 120,000 times as many birds as windmills do, but nobody is removing the cats. I looked this up: there are 200 million bird deaths accountable to cats and 16,700 to wind turbines. So it isn’t about the birds.

Wind and solar are unpredictable. There will be days and times when more electricity is generated than can be used.

This brings me back to the flames. The raging conflagration of something new.

The key to renewable resources—wind and solar—is to even out their intermittency. This is where BESS come into play. They store that excess energy for when it is needed, when the wind isn’t blowing. Battery technology is making this is an increasingly realistic proposition, and the Ontario government is moving as quickly as it can to add storage to its grid.

There are both short- and long-term storage systems. The one can pump into the grid for four hours, the other for nine. A network of these in combination can do quite a lot to respond to changes in supply and demand.

“But there’s that story about the BESS that had a fire in Australia!”

Well, yes, this is true, but that one video, like the Tesla flames video, outplays any real number of battery fires. It’s the equivalent of an urban legend, more talked about than true.

BESS has been in use in Ontario in the manufacturing sector for years. Ontario has not had a single fire, and most Ontarians don’t even know that BESS are as prevalent as they are.

As with the financial arrangements for placing wind turbines, the BESS proponents may have failed to make a good case, but that is a marketing flaw, not a flaw in the technology.

Last week we noted that Germany is a leader in wind power: it stands behind only the Scandinavian countries and Ireland in per capita generation, and well above the Americas and China. But the other 45 per cent of their power comes from coal. Germany rejected nuclear power for reasons of politics, distrust and some famous cases of meltdowns. It’s true: ultimately, nuclear power is neither clean nor renewable. But in the near term, it is the most efficient way to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. (We can save the disposal of spent radiation for the future.)

Our decision about BESS is similar. To reject BESS, and the renewable resources they make viable, will put us into Germany’s position, with no option but to turn back to far more damaging forms of power generation.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 3 edition of The Picton Gazette
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