November 22, 2003
To the Editor,
In her article “Energy in the Winds” (November 21) Courtney Shaubel makes a good point about the need to rethink the future of electricity supply in this province. She sells human ingenuity short, however, by presenting wind energy as the only clean option. There is another choice that emits no greenhouse gases, acid gases, or air pollution, and what’s more, this technology already produces about half this province’s electricity, at a cost bettered only by hydro power.
This option is nuclear energy.
Canadian nuclear reactors (mostly in Ontario) have avoided almost 2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases over the last four decades, plus millions of tonnes of acid gases and particulate air pollution. They have an exemplary safety and environmental record that is second to none.
Immediately after the August blackout, four of Ontario’s operating reactors were available to re-supply the grid, and played a major part in the recovery of the rest of the system that evening.
Wind energy is an equally remarkable technology, but unfortunately limited, by physical constraints, to being a marginal contributor. The reason is the diffuse and unreliable nature of the fundamental energy source.
Powering a city the size of Toronto with wind turbines requires a land area approximately the size of Toronto, and even then they'd be available 20- 30% of the time at best. This means you’d still have to build conventional plants to fill the gap.
Experience suggests that significant wind generation is only practical in the context of a much larger conventional infrastructure. The largest wind-powered jurisdiction, Denmark, relies heavily on hydro power from neighboring Norway to provide this stability. In Germany, wind-energy installers have begun lobbying against the phase-out of nuclear reactors in that country, for the same reason.
A responsible strategy, therefore, would optimize the relative market penetration of renewable and nuclear, combined with aggressive demand-management, and a new generation of cleaner fossil units for peaking needs. But as far as new large-scale baseload supply is concerned, it is gradually being recognized that the most environmentally and economically sustainable option is nuclear.