Intermittent Renewables: Wind and Solar Generation

Billions of dollars have been spent on intermittent wind and solar along with backup natural gas generation. These new sources of supply are being heavily subsidized by ratepayers and have contributed significantly to rising electricity prices in Ontario. Ratepayers face further price increases due to hidden costs for the smart grid technologies and transmission/distribution infrastructure needed to integrate and manage variable electricity production and changing consumer demand.

The great paradox of building more wind and solar generation is that it will increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because the intermittency of these sources requires natural gas generation as a backup more than 70 percent of the time. Future investments should be based on affordability, solid cost benefit analyses and realistic targets.


Ontario remains committed to building more intermittent renewable electricity generation to provide cleaner energy and to create “green” jobs. This commitment has already cost ratepayers billions of dollars for wind and solar and backup natural gas generation. These decisions were based on political rhetoric when they were made, not detailed analyses of the costs and benefits.

Historically, Ontario’s hydroelectric and nuclear generation provides about three-quarters of the province’s electricity at an affordable cost to consumers and is virtually GHG emission-free. This reliable, low-cost electricity has kept Ontario’s economy competitive and growing.

During the government’s recent review of its Long-Term Energy Plan, the Power Workers’ Union and the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries commissioned Strategic Policy Economics (Strapolec) to undertake an assessment and comparison of two alternative electricity supply options. The June 2013 study entitled “Ontario Electricity Options Comparison, Illustrating the Economics of Ontario Energy Supply Options” compared the economic and GHG emission impacts of the two supply mix options.

Strapolec’s first supply mix option, the Retained Wind Scenario, assumed that planned new wind generation goes forward while investments in nuclear power generation are curtailed. Under this scenario, additional gas-fired generation is needed as a backstop to the intermittency of wind generation.

Strapolec’s second option, the Retained Nuclear Scenario, assumed that the planned refurbishment of existing nuclear reactors and the building of new reactors would proceed while the proposed development of new wind generation would not.

The comparison of Strapolec’s Retained Nuclear Scenario and Retained Wind Scenario over the period 2014-2035 indicates the significant advantages of the Retained Nuclear over the Retained Wind scenario as follows:


  • The Retained Nuclear Scenario would result in savings to ratepayers of $38 billion compared to the Retained Wind Scenario;
  • The Retained Nuclear Scenario would deliver $60 billion more net economic benefits to Ontario’s economy than the Retained Wind Scenario;
  • The Retained Nuclear Scenario and the Retained Wind Scenario would generate $10.6 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively, in total direct person year equivalent (PYE) income, i.e., the Retained Nuclear Scenario would generate $9.4 billion more employment income benefits than the Retained Wind Scenario.
  • The Retained Nuclear Scenario and the Retained Wind Scenario would create 131,000 and 24,000 total PYE jobs, respectively, i.e., the Retained Nuclear Scenario would create 107,000 more PYE jobs than the Retained Wind Scenario.
  • The Retained Nuclear Scenario and the Retained Wind Scenario would produce 206 and 303 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), respectively, i.e., the Retained Wind Scenario would add 47 percent more CO2 emissions than the Retained Nuclear Scenario.


Strapolec’s study indicates that reducing Ontario’s nuclear generation and replacing it with new wind generation would result in significant cost increases for electricity ratepayers, substantially lower investment in Ontario’s economy and lead to an unacceptably large increase in GHG emissions.

According to Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Ontario’s ability to meet its GHG emission targets is being compromised even with the closure of the province’s coal stations. Natural gas generation is replacing coal generation for peak needs and is also providing backup for intermittent wind and solar generation, which is needed over 70 percent of the time. Building more wind and solar generation means higher GHG emissions.

Ontario is learning what other jurisdictions like Denmark, Germany and Spain have found: green energy technologies are expensive and the benefits are overhyped. Like consumers in these European countries, Ontarians are seeing their electricity prices steadily increase as a result of large subsidies for wind and solar generation projects. Instead of creating jobs in Ontario, these subsidies are flowing to big multinational companies.

The promised green jobs have not been delivered. Ontario, like Germany and Spain, has discovered that many of the jobs are short-term and that the manufacturing jobs are not sustainable without expensive ongoing subsidies. The domestic content requirement in Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act was successfully challenged as a breach of international trade law.

It is time for Ontario to curtail further investments in wind and solar generation until the costs and benefits are clearly defined and understood.


For more information about Internmittent Renewables please go to the following websites: