Ontario’s electricity operator kept quiet about phantom demand that cost customers millions

Employees of IESO oversee one of the electricity system’s control rooms. Photo courtesy of Independent Electricity System Operator

For almost a year, the operator of Ontario’s electricity system erroneously counted enough phantom demand to power a small city, causing prices to spike and hundreds of millions of dollars in extra charges to consumers, according to the provincial energy regulator.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) also failed to tell anyone about the error once it noticed and fixed it.

The error likely added between $450 million and $560 million to hourly rates and other charges before it was fixed in April 2017, according to a report released this month by the Ontario Energy Board’s Market Surveillance Panel.

It did this by adding as much as 220 MW of “fictitious demand” to the market starting in May 2016, when the IESO started paying consumers who reduced their demand for power during peak periods. This involved the integration of small-scale embedded generation (largely made up of solar) into its wholesale model for the first time.

The mistake assumed maximum consumption at such sites without meters, and double-counted that consumption.

The OEB said the mistake particularly hurt exporters and some end-users, who did not benefit from a related reduction of a global adjustment rate applicable to other customers.

“The most direct impact of the increase in HOEP (Hourly Ontario Energy Price) was felt by Ontario consumers and exporters of electricity, who paid an artificially high HOEP, to the benefit of generators and importers,” the OEB said.

The mix-up did not result in an equivalent increase in total system costs, because changes to the HOEP are offset by inverse changes to a Global Adjustment rate, the OEB noted.

A chart from the OEB’s report shows the time of day when fictitious demand was added to the system, and its influence on hourly rates.

Peak time spikes

The OEB said that the fictitious demand “regularly inflated” the hourly price of energy and other costs calculated as a direct function of it.

For almost a year, Ontario’s electricity system operator @IESO_Tweets erroneously counted enough phantom demand to power a small city, causing price spikes and hundreds of millions in charges to consumers, @OntEnergyBoard says. @5thEstate reports.

It estimated the average increase to the HOEP was as much as $4.50/MWh, but that price spikes would have been much higher during busier times, such as the mid-morning and early evening.

“In times of tight supply, the addition of fictitious demand often had a dramatic inflationary impact on the HOEP,” the report said.

That meant on one summer evening in 2016 the hourly rate jumped to $1,619/MWh, it said, which was the fourth highest in the history of the Ontario wholesale electricity market.

“Additional demand is met by scheduling increasingly expensive supply, thus increasing the market price. In instances where supply is tight and the supply stack is steep, small increases in demand can cause significant increases in the market price.

The OEB questioned why, as of September this year, the IESO had failed to notify its customers or the broader public about the mistake and its effect on prices.

“It’s time for greater transparency on where electricity costs are really coming from,” said Sarah Buchanan, clean energy program manager at Environmental Defence.

“Ontario will be making big decisions in the coming years about whether to keep our electricity grid clean, or burn more fossil fuels to keep the lights on,” she added. “These decisions need to be informed by the best possible evidence, and that can’t happen if critical information is hidden.”

In a response to the OEB report on Monday, the IESO said its own initial analysis found that the error likely pushed wholesale electricity payments up by $225 million. That calculation assumed that the higher prices would have changed consumer behaviour, it said.

In response to questions, a spokesperson said residential and small commercial consumers would have saved $11 million in electricity costs over the 11-month period, while larger consumers would have paid an extra $14 million.

That is because residential and small commercial customers pay some costs via time-of-use rates, the IESO said, while larger customers pay them in a way that reflects their share of overall electricity use during the five highest demand hours of the year.

The IESO said it could not compensate those that had paid too much, given the complexity of the system, and that the modelling error did not have a significant impact on ratepayers.

While acknowledging the effects of the mistake would vary among its customers, the IESO said the net market impact was less than $10 million.

It said it would improve testing of its processes prior to deployment and agreed to publicly disclose errors that significantly affect the wholesale market in the future. SOURCE


As the climate crisis melts our ice, our way of life could change in unexpected ways

Ice skaters on the Rideau Canal in 2017. As the climate crisis accelerates, traditions like this are likely to become rarer. Photo by Alex Tétreault

In Japan, a once-annual Shinto ceremony that revolved around the freezing of a lake is no longer possible most years.

In Minnesota, ice fishing competitions that feed local economies are expected to get cancelled more often as the climate crisis accelerates.

And in Canada, ice roads that serve as a lifeline for isolated Indigenous communities in the North are opening weeks later than they once did.

As our planet warms, the loss of freshwater ice in winter threatens to fundamentally alter our way of life, endangering spiritual practices, cultural traditions and livelihoods, found a study published earlier this year.

“Winters are warming rapidly, and we’re already seeing direct changes on the way that we use our environment,” said Sapna Sharma, a co-author of the study and associate professor at York University who studies the impacts of climate change on lakes.

“I think there’s still a disconnect on what the climate crisis means to us as individuals, what we’re losing and how that might affect our well-being.”

The study, published in the October 2019 edition of the journal Limnology and Oceanography, attempted to quantify how the loss of inland ice would affect people, using case studies from across the northern hemisphere.

Much of this work attempted to assign numbers to these impacts: Minnesota’s annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza brings in an estimated US$1 million per year, for example. And the opening of ice roads in northern Canada have been delayed by as much as three weeks, which tightens the time window within which residents can use the routes for inexpensive travel to see loved ones and get items they need.

But the study also notes that “many human uses related to lake and river ice, such as a loss of sense of place, are more difficult to evaluate empirically and to assign a dollar value.”

Though icy winters are part of Canada’s cultural identity, Sharma said, we have to start thinking about our sense of place in the world will shift along with the climate. MORE

Top scientists warn of an Amazon ‘tipping point’

As the Amazon burns, it seems like everyone is in search of someone to blame. Nearly 100,000 fires have been detected, but who or what is to blame? (Sarah Cahlan, Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Deforestation and other fast-moving changes in the Amazon threaten to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, devastate wildlife and release billions of tons carbon into the atmosphere, two renowned experts warned Friday.

“The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we,” Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University and Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, both of whom have studied the world’s largest rainforest for decades, wrote in an editorial in the journal Science Advances. “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” SOURCE

Suddenly, solar energy plus storage is giving conventional fuels a run for their money

The increasingly competitive dynamic duo of solar photovoltaic plus battery storage is taking energy markets by storm

Photo courtesy of FPL / Douglas Murray.

The energy dynamic around renewables is changing so quickly in Colorado that Zach Pierce, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club, can hardly keep up with it. “I feel like we’re having to rewrite the talking points on the drawing board every month in Colorado,” he says.

In December, the state’s largest utility — Xcel Energy — released a short report summarizing the responses to the solicitation it had issued to power suppliers for bids to bring new sources of electricity to the grid. The utility received 430 bids, and 350 of those were for renewable energy projects.

That was remarkable on its own, but what surprised people even more were the bids for projects that added battery storage to the mix. They were cheaper than anyone expected.

“It’s a testament to how quickly the market is changing,” Pierce says.

Changing Attitudes

For years, renewable energy advocates have pushed utilities and regulators to consider adding battery storage to their electrical generation portfolios for flexibility and to reduce intermittency problems that come with solar and wind. Until recently, it wasn’t considered a realistic option: Batteries were expensive and largely untested by utilities, and risk-averse regulators mostly let grid managers ignore them in their bids, statements and long-term planning documents.

Analysts say that’s starting to change as batteries come down in price, as momentum builds behind renewables and as renewables create a natural market for storage. Utilities are increasingly looking at batteries as a tool for leveling out power available over the course of the day and for replacing bulky and expensive peaking power plants that have high costs but only occasionally run at or near full capacity to meet peak demand (in the Southwest, this might be one hot day in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning turned up).

Some see the Xcel Energy report as the most recent case in a growing trend. Xcel’s preliminary analysisfrom December (a more thorough report is expected to come out June 6) showed that the median bids for battery storage projects coupled with solar and wind generation came in at about US$36 and US$21 per megawatt-hour, respectively. The prices of projects that combined solar or wind with storage, according to the report, were still more expensive than conventional fuels but only marginally more expensive than bids for standalone solar or wind projects. What it shows, analysts say, is that utilities can use batteries without adding huge costs to renewable projects.

First Solar has contracted to help Arizona Public Service meet heightened power needs during late afternoon and early evenings with energy gathered by state-of-the-art thin film solar panels and stored in a 50-megawatt battery. Photo courtesy of First Solar

Xcel is not alone. Utilities across the country appear to be more receptive to the idea of adding storage to their portfolios. Tucson Electric Power’s decision to build a solar-plus-storage project for US$45 per megawatt-hour generated dozens of headlines last year — and that price-point is higher than the Xcel median. Earlier this year, NV Energy, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, announced it would include battery storage in its bidding process for the first time. Around the same time, California regulators pushed a utility to procure energy storage as a replacement to natural gas. A few months later, Florida Light & Power announced a project adding storage to an existing solar plant.

Kate McGinnis, the Western U.S. market director for Fluence Energy, a global battery storage provider that Siemens and AES Corporation launched last year, says it’s clear that attitudes toward storage are changing. “We’re seeing utilities talk directly to us to learn more about what storage can do and how it can help them to meet the various grid challenges they are experiencing,” McGinnis says.

But she also offered the following warning: The Xcel numbers, as medians, reveal difficulties in comparing different energy storage projects. Batteries are diverse and complex. Different batteries have different capacities — some might be able to hold enough energy so they could discharge power over five hours. Others might be able to store enough for 10 hours.

“If you compare them on price alone, you are probably comparing apples to oranges to blackberries,” McGinnis says.

Boosting Efficiency, Replacing Gas

Abig driver of the shift in energy storage is cost, says Yayoi Sekine, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. She notes that the price of lithium-ion batteries has dropped from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to about $209 per kWh in 2017. The decreases came as more batteries were produced at a more efficient scale to accommodate a growing electric vehicle market.

“That’s a massive decrease in prices over not that long of a period,” she says.

Utilities, Sekine says, see an opportunity to use storage to make the grid more efficient. Adding more solar to the grid has created big issues for how grid operators manage a utility’s generation portfolio, the biggest of which is commonly known as the “duck curve” (the name comes from the a graph of net load on the grid; it forms what looks like the outline of a duck). It occurs when so much solar power is produced during the day that it creates a slew of issues for meeting demand at night. The thinking is that if some of that solar power were stored in a battery, it could be dispatched with more flexibility and deployed more gradually to better balance supply and demand.

Others want to take storage and solar a step further. They believe that, as prices become more competitive, the two together can obviate the need for some natural gas plants. According to a new report from Greentech Media, solar and storage together are expected to compete directly with natural gas peakers — plants built to meet peak electricity demand — by 2022.

“That is an application where we think [battery] storage can be highly competitive,” says Ravi Manghani, an industry analyst who directs Greentech Media’s energy storage research.

The industry still faces some headwinds. Analysts say costs need to decrease even more for batteries plus renewables to compete head-on with most conventional fuels. David Hart, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author on a recent working paper on energy storage, says that more research and development is necessary. He proposes that government mechanisms encourage innovation, especially research in battery types other than lithium-ion.

Another challenge, Hart says, is the fact that electricity prices vary based on time and location.

“It’s a pretty complex and diverse market that is going to emerge,” he says.

But if the adoption of a new technology looks like a hockey stick — where things start slowly and then suddenly boom, Manghani says the energy storage industry is somewhere near the inflection point.

“We are at a point in the industry where adoption is expected to go up significantly,” he says. SOURCE



The power of earthworm poop and how it could influence climate change

‘They could have as much of an impact as, let’s say, wildfire,’ according to expert

These worms (Lumbricus terrestris) were added to an agricultural experiment in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., to evaluate their soil-forming capacity in a cold, humid region. Its poop traps carbon in soil. (Submitted by Joann Whalen)

There is a confounding mystery wrapped up in the tiny turds of two different types of earthworms, and the secrets locked inside are influencing climate change around the world.

Scientists say some earthworm species are potentially speeding up climate change by feeding on leaves, then pooping out a mix that’s fodder to tiny microbes and fungi that spew carbon into the atmosphere. By contrast, other worms are helping lock carbon in soil.

Canada is ground zero for this paradox. Earthworm populations are growing as warmer temperatures allow the invertebrates to move farther north than ever before.

And no one knows exactly how much carbon they are helping release into the atmosphere.

“Some of the early work has shown that they could have as much of an impact as, let’s say, wildfire,” said Sylvie Quideau, a professor of soil biogeochemistry at the University of Alberta.

It’s possible, she said, worms in Canada could release millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in a year, but that estimate is still subject to a lot of uncertainties, including the rate of earthworm invasion across the country.

Sylvie Quideau, a professor of soil biogeochemistry at the University of Alberta, says early work on earthworms show ‘they could have as much of an impact as, let’s say, wildfire.’ (Submitted by Sylvie Quideau)

The most common earthworms that live in leaf litter, on forest floors or in the top layers of soil are called Dendrobaena octaedra. They eat plant debris, and their poop, also known as casts, is more easily broken down by microbes and fungi that then release carbon dioxide.

“Microbes find earthworm poop very attractive,” said Quideau.

The more earthworms there are, the more plant debris is broken down at a faster rate and the more carbon gets released into the atmosphere.

This kind of carbon being released from Canada’s boreal forests is new, according to Quideau, since earthworms are not native to the country. They were wiped out during the last ice age.

The earthworms here now, save for some found in British Columbia, are invasive species transported into forests when Europeans arrived or brought them in from the United States as fishing bait.

“Earthworms can both be allies and enemies,” said Joann Whalen, a professor in the department of natural resource sciences at Montreal’s McGill University who has studied earthworms for 20 years.

In agriculture, earthworms are beneficial, said Whalen: They help make soil more fertile, and allow water and roots to more easily enter the ground.

In spring, it is common to see spherical lumps of earth on the soil surface. These earthworm casts are a mixture of soil and organic residues that all earthworm species poop out or egest onto the soil surface. The white object is a toonie, to give an idea of the cast size. (Submitted by Joann Whalen)

In the boreal forest, worms can do more harm than good.

Some eat the leaf litter covering the forest floor, and many plant seeds need that thick covering to grow in. Without it, the seeds can’t take root, said Whalen, which means earthworms can reduce plant diversity in the forest.

But earthworms aren’t all bad. There are some burrowing species that actually trap carbon in the soil, because their poop binds it more tightly and makes it harder for microbes to break down.

Often sold as fishing bait, Lumbricus terrestris is a common deep-burrowing earthworm found in Canada. It can be identified by the small mounds of earth it leaves on lawns or in forests.

How much carbon is being trapped by these worms and whether it’s enough to offset the carbon other worms are helping release isn’t clear. Finding the answer to that question is part of Quideau’s research.

“What keeps me up at night is wondering if I can quantify their effect on climate change,” she said.

‘Earthworms can both be allies and enemies,’ says Joann Whalen, a professor in the department of natural resource sciences at Montreal’s McGill University. (Submitted by Joann Whalen)

Whalen isn’t losing any sleep over worms. She said the carbon dioxide coming from decomposing plant material is a natural process, and worms help it.

“I’d be more concerned about what people are doing in terms of utilizing fossil carbon that had been buried for millennia and is now being released into the atmosphere.”

Still, in Canada, the earthworm invasion continues.

Erin Cameron, an assistant professor in the department of environmental science at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, has been monitoring the invasion’s progress since 2006.

In northern Alberta, she’s been studying how fast earthworms are spreading, and has discovered they are moving north at a rate of 17 metres a year. The earthworm population appears to have grown as well.

Dendrobaena octaedra is one of the most common earthworms that live in the leaf litter on the forest floor or in the top layers of soil. (Submitted by Erin Cameron)

The most abundant kind of earthworm she finds live in leaf litter or in the top layers of soil, the ones that help release carbon into the air.

“Earthworms may benefit from warmer temperatures in Canada’s North, for example, because that may currently be restricting the distributions of some species,” said Cameron.

So as climate change continues to warm the country, earthworms could continue to become more abundant and possibly drive more climate change.

Erin Cameron, an assistant professor in the department of environmental science at Saint Mary’s University, has been monitoring the earthworm invasion’s progress since 2006. (Submitted by Erin Cameron)

Quideau doesn’t think there’s anything that can be done to stop the worm march through Canada.

“What’s important is that we can understand, quantify their effect better so that we can project better in the future what their influence will be. There might be ways then to manage a forest.”

She and other researchers hope to do just that in the next few years. They want to crack the secret of earthworm poop, and determine how much carbon earthworms release and store in the earth. SOURCE

Some reasons for (cautious) optimism on the climate change front in 2020

Ignoring climate scientists’ warnings, this report from CBC illustrates how media and government have been captured by climate criminals determined to keep pumping CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere while threatening life on earth. Clearly Canada’s energy policy, based on ecocide and genocide, has abandoned any semblance of climate justice.

2019 was the year that climate policy took a decisive turn in Canadian politics

Sunlight breaks through dark clouds shining on a wind farm in Wilhelmshaven, on the North Sea coast of Germany this month. (Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/The Associated Press)

The second decade of the 21st century was not comforting.

The celebration of the so-called “end of history” turned out to be premature. Liberal democracy proved to be less than inevitable and progress could no longer by taken for granted. Populism, nationalism and authoritarianism reared their heads. New media fed our worst impulses.

The scales fell and all that remains unreconciled became clear. The stakes in our politics were thrown into stark relief. There was unrest in the streets and the planet was, quite literally, aflame.

It also may have been a good decade for climate policy in Canada.

This country wasn’t immune to the political forces that came to the fore over the last 10 years. Our most important trading partner and closest ally is in the throes of a political and social crisis. And our own politics experienced dramatic shifts — from the Conservative majority in 2011 to the Liberal majority in 2015 — that may reverberate for years to come.

Stephen Harper created a durable political party that is firmly planted on the political right. Justin Trudeau is now leading the most activist federal government since Lester B. Pearson. The fates of their respective projects will define the pursuit of power in Canada for the foreseeable future.

A helicopter battles a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016. A year later, the fire season in British Columbia broke records as 2,117 blazes consumed more than 12,000 sq. kilometres of bush. Both events have been connected to climate change in two separate research papers. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The increasingly unavoidable realities of climate change will shape whatever comes in the next decade. But the work of the next ten years will benefit from significant progress made in the last ten.

It’s not easy to feel good about anything related to climate change. The latest international conference ended without significant progress. Average temperatures continue to rise. The world’s largest emitters still aren’t doing enough. And after decades of failing to confront the problem, the impacts are no longer theoretical. The need for action is now urgent.

The provinces step up

But the last decade in Canada did see significant action. British Columbia’s carbon tax, introduced in 2008, survived an election in 2009 and a change of government in 2017. The province’s New Democrats, once opposed to the policy, became the first government to increase the levy in six years when they raised it to $35 per tonne in 2018.

In 2014, Ontario completed the phase-out of its coal-fired power plants — a change that is believed to have resulted in the single largest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in North America. That same year, Quebec joined its cap-and-trade system with California’s, creating the largest carbon market on the continent.

Climate policy in Alberta has lurched markedly from Rachel Notley’s NDP government to Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government, but at least two important elements remain: a planned phase-out of coal and a carbon levy for large industries. Meanwhile, in the wake of this fall’s federal election, New Brunswick ended its opposition and agreed to implement a carbon tax on fuel.

Between 2010 and 2020, emissions in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are projected to decline. They’re expected to hold steady in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba.

A car is charged at a charging station for electric vehicles on Parliament Hill in May. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Boosted by a combination of incentives in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, 43,655 zero-emission vehicles were registered in Canada in 2018 — an impressive increase over the 518 such vehicles that hit the road in 2011.

In 2009, wind and solar accounted for 1.2 per cent of the electricity generated in Canada, while coal and oil made up 13 per cent. In 2020, wind and solar are projected to account for 5.5 per cent, while coal and gas are down to 7.6 per cent. Hydro, wave and tidal energy are expected to account for 61.4 per cent of electricity generation.

Federally, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were reluctant to act aggressively, but they were at least willing to match the fuel-efficiency standards implemented by Barack Obama’s administration in the United States. The pace of federal action has picked up markedly since 2015 — a federal carbon price, new regulations on methane emissions, billions of dollars in public funds committed to clean technology and “green infrastructure” and plans for a new clean fuel standard.

In 2011, the Government of Canada’s official projection showed national emissions rising through the decade, reaching 785 megatonnes in 2020. The projection published in 2018 shows Canada’s emissions reaching 704 Mt in 2020 — and then declining to 616 Mt by 2030.

However belated, it’s a move in the right direction.

It’s also not nearly enough.

The new politics of carbon

Even once you take into account carbon credits for land-use changes, Canada’s emissions were still projected to be 592 Mt in 2030, 77 Mt short of our target. And the goal for 2050 is now net-zero.

That is a daunting task. It remains to be seen whether our leaders have the will, the skill and the courage to get us there. And Canada’s efforts, however far they go, address just one part of a global problem.

But it’s also possible that — in Canada, at least — the politics of carbon have changed.

A decade ago, Stéphane Dion’s proposal to implement a carbon tax was like a political albatross hanging around the thin shoulders of the Liberal leader. In 2019, 63 per cent of voters — more than 11 million Canadians — cast a ballot for a party that supported a price on carbon.

The subject was front and centre in the throne speech that opened Parliament last month. That was no accident. Both the Liberal minority government’s survival in the House of Commons and its hopes of improving its standing in the next election seem to depend on reaching out to the parties and voters who want to do something about climate change.

The hard work is still ahead

True national consensus — broad agreement on the goals of climate policy and the need for action, if not quite the precise details — may depend on where the Conservative Party goes in its upcoming leadership race. The federal carbon price is still being challenged in court by a number of provinces. And it remains to be seen whether public opinion about climate change can withstand an economic downturn, or any of the other unforeseen events that can shift opinion and political power.

The emissions that still have to be cut will not go away easily. Buildings need to be retrofitted. While electric cars are no longer boutique oddities, they’re still vastly outnumbered by gas-powered pick-up trucks and SUVs.

Great change must be managed. And if the election of 2019 seemed to reveal a burgeoning coalition of voters who want action on climate change, it also clarified the challenges and the potential fissures that the transition to a low-carbon world could open up.

Between 2010 and 2020, Alberta’s emissions are projected to increase from 239 Mt to 277 Mt. Every corner of the country reaped the benefits of the resource development driving those emissions. Reducing them will require a national effort.

There is more work ahead for this country’s political leaders than there is behind them. Arguably, the work still to be done will be harder. But it’s also possible that the impacts of climate change — the fires and floods — will continue to be too much for most voters to ignore.

One way or another, climate change will form the backdrop to everything else that happens in politics over the next decade: populism, nationalism, economic inequality, mass migration, geopolitical power struggles, fears for the future of Western democratic institutions. And all of those forces threaten to make it even harder to act to reduce emissions.

The second decade of the 21st century ends with a feeling of precariousness. And the next ten years promise to be neither easy nor relaxing.

The last decade proved that progress is not inevitable. But it also showed that progress is possible. SOURCE