Innovation is always a solution

 “Bruce has its own wind farm.

 Hawthorne gets paid $116 a MW for power from Huron Wind.

 For Bruce B, that figure is $52; Bruce A $68 ‘after having spent $7 billion on it,’ he says.

 ‘The capacity factor of the wind farm is 24%; the nuclear plant is 90%.’

 And there are no emissions from nuclear.

 The message is clear.

 You want to keep the lights on with cheap, clean, green energy?

 Then you need nuclear.”

 

  • Benefits of using nuclear power are clear, By Christina Blizzard, QMI Agency, Updated  August 21, 2013 07:30 AM EDT

 

As someone who sells life insurance products, I know that it is difficult for people to look at their future without rose colour glasses. Trying to get people to see their future is always a problem because as human beings we tend to look to our past or our present. As a species, we tend not to think that things can get better or worse. As a species, we tend to forget the lessons that we have learned. In particular, we forget that we can innovate and change. 

This is particularly important to remember when we are dealing with our society’s ability to generate and use power. Take Ms. Blizzard’s contention that Nuclear Power is our only solution. Or as she said, “You want to keep the lights on with cheap, clean, green energy? Then you need nuclear.” Today, in Ontario, Nuclear Power is an important part of their energy mix. However, that was not always the case. Before, Nuclear was important, Coal-fired plants provided Ontario with most of its electrical power. Before, Coal was king, Niagara Falls drove the generators that lit the bulbs in much of Southern Ontario. Innovation has brought change which we could not predict; but which we have seen.

Consequently, Ms. Blizzard’s fetish with Nuclear Power is troubling. For Ms. Blizzard doesn’t recognize the costs of Nuclear Power. One of those costs is the costs of an accident. In August 1979, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility had an accident. While the clean-up started in 1979, it officially ended in December of 1993. Not on the premise that the area was cleaned, but on the premise that there was not further spilling of radiation into the environment and that there was very little economic value in continuing to reduce the amount of radiation present. Depending on the estimates of costs, clean-ups and property damages, one could see that the cost would likely have been between $1 billion and $2.4 billion dollars. Those costs were largely cover by taxpayers.

In the case of Chernobyl, “Belarus estimates the total cost of resettlement, cleaning and sealing the Chernobyl reactor, and fulfilling medical claims to be $235 billion.” While, in the case of Fukushima, PBS.com quoted James Surowiecki of The New Yorker; He noted that “Even if Japan’s nuclear crisis is contained, its earthquake and tsunami now seem certain to be, economically speaking, among the worst national disasters in history, with total losses potentially as high as two hundred billion dollars.” Given that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, “is set to receive a government bailout that may cost as much as 11 trillion yen ($137 billion) after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the largest in Japan since the rescue of the banking industry in the 1990s”, (Tepco Bailout Largest in Japan Since Rescue of Banks, By Tsuyoshi Inajima – Feb 24, 2012 12:43 AM MT, Bloomberg.com) One can see that Nuclear is not always a cheap option.

However, one does not have to have a disaster to see the run-away costs of Nuclear Projects. In 2009, the Ontario Government, led by Mr. McGuinty, tried to come up with a solution. They looked at nuclear power plants and they found that they had to cancel their plans to build a nuclear plant when “the only ‘compliant’ received, was more than three times higher than what the province expected to pay.” That project – the expansion of the Darlington Generating Station – “would have wiped out the province’s nuclear-power expansion budget for the next 20 years, leaving no money for at least two more multibillion-dollar refurbishment projects.” (­ $26B cost killed nuclear bid, by Tyler Hamilton, Toronto Star; July 14, 2009) 

Or put differently, the McGuinty Government had to cancel their plans to expand Darlington generating station because the cost was estimated to be about $26 billion for two reactors. That costs was three to five times more than what the Ontario Government had previously estimated. Since Ontario Power Generation, a corporation owned by the Ontario Government, owns 10 nuclear units which generates 30% of Ontario’s power; one would think that the Ontario Government could predict what the cost of a Nuclear Unit would be. But they couldn’t.

This might seem odd, but this has been the story of nuclear reactors since the 1990’s. For throughout the 1990’s, three Premiers – a Liberal, a New Democrat and a Progressive Conservative – each had to deal with one fact: the premature aging of Ontario’s Nuclear Power Plants. Each Premier tried to fix the problem but each failed. In fact, the costs were so high that in 1998 the Province attached a fee (called the Debt Retirement Charge) onto the bills of each resident who used grid power.Consequently, one can see that nuclear power’s true cost can be staggering.

The funny thing is that there are many other options. Most of Canadian’s electrical grid was designed around large energy generation projects. From the completion of the Queenston-Chippawa Hydroelectric Plant (now the Adam Beck I) in 1922 to the recent development of Candu Nuclear Reactors, Canada has had an electrical system which has always depended on large generation capacity.  This system has led us to the belief that the generation of more capacity is always the issue. However, looking at other systems, we can see that Canadians may not have the right approach.

According to the OECD, Canadians are energy hogs. When looking at our overall energy usage, Canadians use 6.19 tonnes of oil equivalent per capita, while the OECD average is 3.18 tonnes of oil equivalent per capita. Out of 29 OECD countries, only residents of Iceland and Luxembourg use more energy per capita than Canadians. So while Nuclear Power is presently an important part of our energy mix; it is foolish to say that it is the only solution.

Just look at Finland. Canada shares a similar climate to Finland. Given that 90% of Canada’s population lives within 100kms of the US/Canadian border (i.e. 4% of the countries area), one could even argue that when comparing habited portions of our countries, we share similar population densities to our northern compatriot. Yet according to the IEA and World Bank, between 2008 and 2011, the Finnish per capita Energy Use was between 6,227 and 6,787 kg of oil equivalent; while Canada’s was over 7,000 kg of oil equivalent. For those who think this is isolated, one should look again. The French were in and around 4,000 kg of oil equivalent, Norway’s was around 6,000 kg of oil equivalent and Sweden jumped between 4,800 and 5,400. Or put differently, Canadians could have a similar lifestyle while using less power. If this is true, it is also true that Canada does not necessarily need the large generating capacity that we think we do. Consequently, Canada might be able to do more with less.

Today the idea of less intensive electrical generation is not science fiction. We know that by using European and Asian Energy use standards, Canadians could reduce the amount of electrical plants. We also know that battery development over the last thirty years has meant that society can collect and store energy much more efficiently than before. This means that the possibility of using solar and wind energy as a base power supply is, or soon will be, possible.

Just look at the emergence of electric vehicles including Toyota’s Prius, Honda Hybrid Civic, the Nissan Leaf or Telsa’s S-Model.

Or one can look at Denmark’s Edison project. The partially funded state research project has many participants including IBM, Siemens, EURISCO, DONG Energy, Technical University of Denmark and the Danish Energy Association. Denmark has a problem; Twenty percent of the country’s present electrical needs are produced by wind farms. They want to increase their wind production to 50% by 2020 without sacrificing predictability. One solution the Edison Project is working on is developing smart grid infrastructure that enables electric vehicles to intelligently communicate with the grid to determine when charging, and ultimately discharging, can take place. In other words, the Danes want to turn their cars into batteries for their wind producing electric grid. When power production is high, excess power can be funneled into cars. When it is low, the cars that have excess capacity can then funnel their resources back onto the grid. The Danes want to move beyond our present understanding of a “smart grid” through innovation. They want to add to their life and not take from it. Their Government is being entrepreneurial and insightful by creating a solution that is economically efficient, profitable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible. This is the type of thinking that is innovative. It is type of thinking that makes countries.

Consequently, when I read Ms. Blizzard’s piece – after seeing her interviewed by a supportive Charles Adler – I instinctively knew that I had to say something. For her opinion on this topic was incorrect. For her piece lacked the imagination that comes with governing. Her piece did not show the imagination of C. D. Howe: a Liberal Minister who pushed through the creation of TransCanada. It did not show the determination of Trudeau in bringing home the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor the strength in character of Chretien in not going to war in Iraq. Ms. Blizzard’s article presented a form of conservative scepticism that would have been rejected by Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney and Sir John A. MacDonald. For building a better society takes risks and courage. It means picking the technologies that as a society we want to have and moving forward, with the market and private sector players, to make sure that they succeed. This is the type of reform that J.S. Mill taught us about and it is the movement which allows society to provide the benefits to the majority of us, while not disadvantaging minorities and individuals. It is the balance that I want to see and it has moved us forward for over 100 years. These are the principles of Canadian Liberalism. They guided Red Tories, Grits and the Liberal Party of Canada through two world wars, economic depressions and times of plenty and they should use them to guide us again today.

 

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