As readers of this blog my know I was recently asked to produce a short piece for Business in Vancouver titled: UBC Site C dam analysis misses mark on electricity demand. My article highlighted some of the shortcomings of the recent report out of the UBC Program on Water Governance on the Site C Dam titled “Reassessing the Need for Site C” (Link to the full study). This afternoon, I was directed to a rebuttal to my piece titled: UBC professor rebuts criticism of Site C dam economics study prepared by Dr. Bakker, one of the authors of the original report. The “rebuttal”, as I will demonstrate, does nothing of the sort. What it does do is demonstrate quite nicely the basis for my complaints about the original report.
To start this discussion, I will sadly address a point that several people have already noted, that Dr. Bakker pointedly declines to refer to me by my professional title in her article. I know it is a minor point but it speaks to the level of discourse on this topic that she chooses to omit the Dr. in front on my name referring to me (rather abruptly) as “King” in her discussions.
Ignoring the deliberate insult let’s summarize my criticisms which I will expand on in this post. On the topic of wind costs she completely misses the point of my critique – that when comparing energy systems you have to compare like with like. Instead she returns to the analysis used in her report where she compares apples with oranges. Having failed to debunk my wind comments she then proceeds to completely ignore my secondary point, that the the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) and Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP) both acknowledge that we will have significant electricity needs in excess of those presented in her analysis. Rather she chooses to dwell on how DDPP and TEFP argue we should address those increased energy needs. This, of course, is completely irrelevant to why these reports were discussed in my piece. In the following sections, I will deconstruct the issues I have identified in her rebuttal in more detail.
Dr. Bakker begins her analysis by repeating her argument that her original report involved a lot of work, therefore they got the numbers right. She makes this statement prior to presenting any details challenging my point which seems rather presumptuous but there you have it.
In her next section (paragraph 3 for those counting) she states:
“King states that our analysis takes into account only the cost of constructing wind turbines and omits the cost of the transmission and storage requirement needed to allow those turbines to supply us with electricity.” This is simply incorrect. On the contrary, our study (in Section 5.4.1) clearly distinguishes between the unit energy cost (UEC) of wind at the point of interconnection and the “adjusted UEC,” which also includes transmission network upgrade costs, transmission line losses and wind integration costs (note 258, page 91).
Now as a well-known skeptic notes, one should be careful to follow the pea when an academic challenges you. In this case Dr. Bakker argues that the note on page 91 of her report addresses my concern. But it does not. My specific concern was that the Site C costs presented in her report include all the costs to connect to the existing transmission system. However, her wind costs merely include the costs to upgrade the transmission system to meet the added strain associated with intermittent energy sources like wind. It does NOT include the costs to build brand new transmission systems to connect our exiting transmission system to these new turbines. Her report uses the following wording (Section 5.4.1 p.92):
These are adjusted unit energy costs that include the cost of transmission losses to deliver energy to the Lower Mainland, network upgrade costs, wind integration costs, among other adjustments.
In British Columbia, the vast majority of the proposed onshore wind sites are not near existing transmission lines. By ignoring this cost in the assessment, the UBC report mis-informs readers as to the potential costs of wind energy. Once you include the costs of transmission lines into the calculus wind projects lose a lot of their luster.
Dr. Bakker next challenges my inclusion of storage in the cost assumptions relating to wind energy. She does so by pointing out that Ontario uses wind, absent storage. This is, of course, a red herring. In the UBC report the authors compare the Site C Dam, a fully dispatchable baseline electricity source, to wind turbines only. Wind turbines do not represent dispatchable electricity they can only provide the same service as the Site C Dam if they have associated storage to allow them to serve that purpose. Dr. Bakker is once again playing bait and switch. The point I present in my original article is that wind cannot serve the same purpose as Site C which her “rebuttal” does nothing to rebut. Dr. Bakker ends this section of her critique by suggesting that wind can always be associated with additional capacity at a lower cost to address the service to be provided by Site C but that argument, as I discuss in my previous post is simply incorrect. In the UBC report they suggest alternatives like adding generation at existing dams or adding pumped storage at exiting dams, neither of which provide the additional capacity necessary to achieve the energy goal.
Having failed to present a cogent rebuttal for my discussion of wind energy Dr. Bakker spends the remainder of her article completely ignoring my comments regarding the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) assessment of future energy needs. As I point out in my piece in their report Dr. Bakker and her colleagues attempt to discredit the energy projections from the DDPP and TEFP reports ultimately summarized in the ECCC assessment report on energy needs.
Now read Dr. Bakkers “rebuttal” again. Does she ever address my point? No of course not. She instead argues that DDPP and TEFP provide unacceptable means to address those energy needs. I ask, how is that relevant to this discussion? How they propose to deal with the problem only follows from their describing the problem. I agree with their description of the problem not their solutions. Dr. Bakker spends 1/3 of her article rebutting an argument I never made. Once again follow the pea. She never addresses my point and instead debunks a point I never made. This approach doesn’t even warrant being called a strawman defence because she doesn’t even bother to create a legitimate strawman to destroy.
Ultimately, as I discuss above, Dr. Bakker’s rebuttal does nothing of the sort. Her criticism of my comments on wind power only reinforce the points I made in my original article and her criticisms of the DDPP and TEFP reports do not address the issues I raised in my article. As far as rebuttals go this one simply falls flat. It is clear from this rebuttal that academics who spend all their time in echo chambers can lose the ability to provide intellectually robust arguments in defense of their work.