Thursday, September 26, 2013

Up to 300MW of wind power proposed for the Greater Victoria area

TimberWest and EDP Renewables Canada announced today that they are partnering to develop about 300 MW capacity of wind energy near Sooke.   It is a relatively large development which is great news because it will significantly increase green power production in BC.

At the moment we do not produce enough power on Vancouver Island to meet our local needs.  This project would be an important step to seeing the island produce enough power locally.

The details:
  • The expected cost to build these wind projects is about $600,000,000 to $750,000,000.   
  • This scale of installed wind capacity is likely to produce 600 to 1,200 GWh per year or about 1% to 2% of the electrical power used in BC at the moment.
  • Realistically it will require between 50 and 100 wind turbines.
  • The location is on to be on TimberWest lands near Sooke
  • It is close to the existing BC Hydro transmission grid 
TimberWest and EDP Renewables have signed any agreement with the T'Souke First Nation, which I am impressed by.  It is very important to include First Nations very early in any natural resource development project.

So where would the wind turbines be located?   The area I have circled in black are the most likely locations for the turbines.  It is on TimberWest land, it is the first ridge coming off of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and it is reasonably close to the BC Hydro transmission line that starts in Jordan River.  Being close to the existing transmission grid makes all new power projects much more affordable.

Here is a panorama of the eastern most extent of the ridge - the picture is from Google Streetview.   

If I find a better picture of the ridge I will post it on here

One final important consideration.  Wind power really fluctuates making it hard to have consistent power.   Ideally you need a way to store some of the power to even out the load.   The reservoirs at Jordan River have been analysed by BC Hydro for pumped storage and there is some potential for this.   The orginal memo only considered hydro and not any potential for using pumped storage for wind power.

I am curious the role the CRD will have in any approvals of this project, I worry they might interfere with it and slow down or stop the development of more green power in BC.

All in all I think this is a great project and I hope it gets off of the ground very quickly.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Burning wood is not a simply carbon neutral exchange

There are plans in Europe to run powerplants on burning wood to make electricity.   The current rules for carbon neutrality allows this to be considered neutral as an activity but I disagree with that as an approach.

Whenever wood is burnt we dramatically speed the process at which the stored carbon is released.   If do not burn wood it takes much longer for the wood to decay and release the carbon.   The average time for a the carbon in a 100 year old tree to be stored is 50 years or so, if you burn it is released right away.

A 2x4 that is used for construction of building is likely to remain in place in that building for 50 years.  Once the building is no longer needed the 2x4 is most likely going to end up in a landfill, though burning demolition waste is becoming more common.   If the 2x4 does end up in the landfill it can decades longer before it decomposes.    Realistically a 2x4 will store carbon for 80 or so years.    This means in a 100 year old tree that is harvested the carbon will be stored for an average of 130 years which is 2.6 times as long as if you burn the wood.

The burning of wood significantly speeds up the carbon cycle.   One has to remember that the trees cut down have not grown to the end of their natural life and the decay process in the forests is not a fast one.   Finding 100 year old remains of trees in the forest is not uncommon.   All timber harvesting speeds up the carbon cycle, burning harvested trees shortens it even more so.  It is only an old growth forest that is truly carbon neutral.

In either case there is carbon being emitted which adds to the load already in the atmosphere and oceans.  While the very fact that wood is part of the carbon cycle and is not a fossil fuel means it is an improvement over even the best fossil fuels it is still not neutral with respect to carbon emissions.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

People Confuse Weather and Climate

As humans we do not live long enough to be able to really notice changes in climate.  To notice the change that is going people need to have lived in the same spot for half a century as an adult and paid attention to the natural world.   Very, very few people have done this or are capable of doing this.   People see individual weather events as an indication of a climate change.

I am almost 48 years old but I do not honestly remember if there has been changes to weather from the 1960s or 70s because I was not old enough to really know the climate.   Since I have been an adult I have lived the longest in the Lillooet region, 9 years and Victoria for 9 years, neither of these are long enough for me to see the trends on an observational level.

Weather is what happens every day and we remember the extremes we experienced within our life.  Climate is the context within which the weather happens.  Climate is the long term reflection of the norm, it is an average of what happens which means you need a long data series to know what normal is and to know if there is change happening.  

To understand climate we need hundreds of years of data and know how all the data is affected by local changes because of human civilization..A ten or twenty year data set tells us very little unless we can compare it to the past.  What we as people remember is the weather, the anomalies over the short term.

Someone that has lived in the same rural location for 50 or more years and had to pay attention to the climate might be able to know enough to see a change.   Are plants sprouting earlier?  Is it wetter or drier?  Is there a longer frost free period?

I love the fact that for Victoria we know have close to eight years of weather data for a multitude of locations across the city.   But this data does not tell me if there is a change in climate.  I am beginning to be able to see patterns in microclimates in Victoria and even close to where I live, but it is not enough to know what is really normal and what is not.   I have better information on the frost free period but not enough to be certain it may not come late in the spring or early in the fall.    I also do not have five decades of personal experience in this neighbourhood.

We need a lot more detailed microclimate data to know what may be happening but it will be hard to recreate the data from decades or even centuries ago with enough precision needed to matter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can BC use the lack of a carbon tax as an unfair trade practice?

As long as countries have to agree to voluntarily put restrictions in places, the multi-national negotiations like the Copenhagen Summit of 2009 are doomed to failure.   We have to use some way within the existing multi-lateral relations between nations to force things to happen.  One of the few truly global systems we have are the trade agreements such as the World Trade Organization.

BC should take leadership in climate change and use WTO or NAFTA as a way to claim that not having a carbon tax is an unfair trade practice.  It would not have to only be BC but other jurisdictions with carbon taxes that could go and make the same claim, but someone has to start.  

Allowing the unlimited dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere reduces the costs for industry which gives them an unfair advantage over industry elsewhere.   Climate change is a global problem but suffers from the tragedy of the the commons - countries benefit in the short term by not acting.   The economies of countries that do act now are slowed by the actions.   It seems to me there is a clear case for a claim of unfair trade practices.

A successful case in relation to carbon pricing would force countries to either enact some form of pricing or face serious countervailing duties.  Either way the problem of tragedy of the commons is lessened and it becomes possible for more action on climate change.

So if this approach were not to work or would take too long, there is no reason BC could not apply a carbon tax on all products coming into BC based on the fuel they would have used to produce the product.  It would mean products from China would be more marginally more expensive but this should help BC based producers of goods a small improvement.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why do I feel like I do not do enough?

  • I compost and have done so for years.
  • I have done what I can to keep the house warm with less heating and I heat from an very low CO2 source
  • I take the bus some of the time, not all the time but a lot more than most people I know
  • I rarely fly in a plane
  • I have three rain barrels
  • My food is almost all unprocessed and this means I bake my own bread most days.
  • I grow some of my own food.

But it all really does not feel like enough even though I know it is a lot more than most people would do without cost being the primary reason.

I feel like it is not enough because I have a sense of the scale of the problem we are facing.  As nice as small changes are, they really are not enough.   What I am doing on an individual level is not going to make a difference.

Do I need to change the focus of my life to make global solutions to climate change the focus of it?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Large Scale Hydro Projects in North America

After a long period of no new large scale dam projects in North America, we are seeing a number of them now under construction and more proposed.

  • BC - Site C on the Peace River - 5100 GWh per year  - $7.9 billion
  • Manitoba - Keeyask Project - 4,400 GWh per year - $6.5 billion
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - Muskrat Falls - 4,900 GWh per year  - $7.7 billion
  • Quebec - Romaine River project  - 7500 GWh per year - $6.5 billion cost
  • Quebec - Sarcelle and Eastmain 1A - 8,700 GWh per year 

On the books but not actively being pursued

  • Alberta - Slave River project  - est 6,000 GWH per year - est $5 billion - on hold due ot lakc of agreement with First Nations
  • Quebec - Petit Mecatina - 6,200 GWH per year
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - Gull Island - 11,700 GWh per year 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Site C" - Can we afford to build it?

On many levels building the "Site C" dam on the Peace River is attractive.   The Peace already has two dams on it so much of the damage has already been done and the Site C location would simply capture more power.   It will have some significant impacts on the Peace River valley but I think the bigger impact is the cost of the project.   I think the current estimate of $7,900,000,000 is likely way too low and the final cost will be much higher than that making this very expensive power to bring online, more expensive than buying power from independent power producers.

The Peace River power projects first came about in the 1950s with Axel Wenner-Gren's bold proposals for Northern BC.   From this evolved Premier WAC Bennett's Two Rivers policy for developing hydro power in BC - the Columbia system and the Peace River.   Two dams were completed on the Peace River and serious consideration was to have two more.   What there is left of this project now is the "Site C" location.

Peace Dams - built and proposed

  • The WAC Bennett Dam was finished in 1968 and created the very large Williston Reservoir and produces 13,100 GWh/yr.   It is located 18 kilometers west of Husdon's Hope
  • The Peace Canyon Dam was finished in 1980 and created the small Dinosaur Reservoir and produces 3,500 GWh/yr.  It is located 21 kilometers downstream from the WAC Bennett Dam and 7 kilometers upstream from Hudson's Hope
  • "Site A" dropped in favour of "Site C"
  • "Site B" dropped because of bad geology
  • "Site C" is located 83 kilometers downstream from the Peace Canyon Dam and 7 kilometers west of Fort St John.   It would produce about 5.100 GWh/yr
  • "Site D" dropped because of bad geolocy
  • "Site E" was proposed just to the west of the BC Alberta border on the Peace River.  It was dropped as an option in the 1980s

Locations that have been considered for dams on the Peace
BC Hydro has never let go of the idea of developing "Site C" even though it was dormant enough after 1991 that everyone thought the idea was dead.   It is now very seriously under consideration, in fact BC Hydro is acting as it is a done deal.   The one aspect of the project that concerns me more than any other is the cost to build the dam.

The early stage estimate in 2007 was for it to cost $6,600,000,000 to build the Site C dam on the Peace River.  In May 2011 this had been raised to $7,900,000,000.  

Given the stage of the project and the nature of public sector capital project estimates, I see the real construction costs of this project being in the range of $10,000,000,000 to $20,000,000,000.   Amortized over 30 years the construction cost per KWh is $0.0654 to $0.118.   What this means is that the construction costs alone of this power will be likely be higher than what BC Hydro will be able to sell the power for.   To arrive at my numbers I simply took the project costs that I suspect it will be and divided it by 30 years of power production.

In the May 2011 BC Hydro estimated a project cost of $7,900,000,000.  BC Hydro estimates the cost of the power to be $0.087 to $0.095 per MWh.  Most of this cost is from the costs to build the project

Based on the likely costs of the "Site C" project and what it costs BC Hydro to produce power, it would seem that BC Hydro would have to sell the power for about $0.09 to $0.14 per KWh to break even in 2020 with this rising to $0.12 to $0.17 per KWh in 2040.   BC Hydro currently buys power from IPPs at an average of $0.068 per KWh and most of their purchase agreements are set up in such a way that this price is highly unlikely to reach $0.10 per KWh anytime soon.   Building "Site C" will cost BC Hydro more than relying on the private sector.

"Site C" only makes sense if the cost of power is affordable and if it is the best option for more power in this province.   What I have not seen is a good business case for why "Site C" is economically the best option for BC.  The 2007 feasibility study certainly does not make a strong case because it does not look at what the other options are out there.

At the moment BC Hydro's latest call for power is at roughly $0.10 per KWh which then rises at half the rate of inflation for the term of the contract which is anywhere from 20 to 40 years.   The latest call for power is only available for very small projects, the upper limit is a capacity of 15 MW which is why the rates  are higher than for previous IPPs.   Because BC Hydro will only cover half the rate of inflation, it means that over time the cost of the IPP electricity will fall in adjusted terms.  A purchase agreement now for $0.10 per KWh would be $0.135 in 20 years with 3% inflation.  If the full rate of inflation were applied it would be $0.181.  

With the latest call for very small scale power projects that is on offer BC Hydro, the company can be reasonably certain of new IPP power built now being available in 2040 for about $0.135 per KWh.   The cost of getting that power from "Site C" will be roughly the same cost but with BC Hydro taking all the risk.  A new larger scale call for green power in BC will very likely make power available to BC Hydro in the short term - less than five years - for significantly less than the cost of "Site C" power.

BC Hydro will add about 8,500 GWh/yr of power from new IPPs coming online over the next few years.   The cost of all of this power will be cheaper than constructing "Site C".  BC Hydro is already getting over 1,000 GWh/yr from projects that were part of the 2010 integrated power call.  

The economics of "Site C" simply make it a bad risk for BC Hydro and the province.   For that reason alone I do not think we should go ahead with the project.