The more renewable the better at local utility

Every little bit helps.

And in terms of greenhouse gases sent spewing into the atmosphere when electricity is produced, a little bit in relative terms adds up to big load of carbon.

When I asked John Wynsma, vice-president of generation for the city-owned Peterborough Utilities Group (PUG), how much the utility was reducing greenhouse gas output by generating electricity from renewable sources he responded with an insider’s view of the reality of climate change.

The short version: About half the greenhouse gases we deal with in Ontario drift up from the north-eastern United States. About a third are produced by cars, trucks and other means of transportation and 15 per cent by industry. That leaves only eight per cent coming from power generation.

The message: Renewable electricity sources are helpful but electric cars and trucks that run on natural gas are the way to make a difference.

But then he ran the numbers. And it turns out that over the past eight years as it developed into a major player among municipal electricity generation companies, PUG has also made a difference.

The utility has produced 650,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable electricity. The effect has been a CO2 reduction of just under 51,000 metric tonnes. That’s like taking 10,000 cars off the road for a year.

That result has come by focusing primarily on two methods of renewable “green” energy production: hydro dams that use the power of river water and solar energy.

Wynsma was recruited by PUG eight years ago with a mandate to build up the generation side. Ironically, as a private consultant back in the 1990s he prepared the proposal that Trent University used to get licence approval for what today is the Robert G. Lake dam and generating station just north of the university.

Originally known as the Trent Rapids project, it wasn’t built until 2008. By then Wynsma would be running the generation side at PUG and his division would partner with Trent to bring it to life.

When he arrived the utility had one hydro generation station, the London St. dam, and generated six MW of electricity. Since then it has partnered with Trent on two more run-of-the-river dams, bought a hydro dam in Campbellford and added a second site at London St.

Two smaller dams will be developed at Lock 24 and Buckhorn over the next two years and a second Campbellford dam will be taken over in 2018.

On the solar side there are the 10 MW Lily Lake solar farm that opened in 2011 and rooftop projects on the Kinsmen Arena in Peterborough and Asphodel-Norwood Community Centre that will be on line shortly. Twenty 500 KW solar projects will be built in the Apsley-Bancroft area next year.

All told, PUG has a current generating capacity of 36 MW.

When all the new projects are producing “we’re going to be very close to 60 megawatts,” Wynsma says, “so we’re very excited about that.”

Energy Ottawa is the only municipally owned utility in Ontario with more generation capacity.

The impetus for expanding PUG’s generation stable was economic. Larry Doran, a former PUG president who hired Wynsma, looked at the prices being paid for renewable energy and saw a business opportunity.

It was a good call. PUG now pays the city a dividend of $5.5 million a year with $3.1 million coming from generation.

“I can see those dividends from our company going up, quite nicely, over time,” Wynsma says.

Growth has also meant job creation. When he came there was one full time operating manager for London St. Now the division has 16 full-time staff, all of them in good-paying technical and management jobs.

And he sees another opportunity for green job creation, although this time not for people, at the Lily Lake solar farm.

“If I have one thing I’d like to do, which we saw in Europe, is to put some sheep on it,” Wynsma says.

Sheep trimming grass while sun-power flows into the grid. It’s where the past meets the future in electrical generation.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, August 13, 2016.