NS premier’s office slow to correct misleading info

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NS Premier turns sod at wind farm

Mediaspin subscribes to the Nova Scotia government’s PR feed and, as the e-mailed  news releases roll in, we hear the most exciting ones read back to us every hour on CBC Radio and its privately owned competitors. Many of the claims in the news releases also pop up on the nightly TV news and in the next day’s newspapers.

So it’s important that the releases contain accurate information and that’s why Mediaspin asked the Nova Scotia premier’s office to correct one issued this week on the opening of a new wind farm. The release in question began with this  cheery news:

Premier Darrell Dexter helped break ground in Amherst today, June 22, on a new wind farm that will boost the local economy and help the province achieve its renewable electricity targets.

The $61-million project will feature 15 wind turbines with a capacity of 31.5 megawatts, enough energy to power 10,000 homes.

Who could be against a project that “will boost the local economy,” “help the province achieve its renewable energy targets” and produce “enough energy to power 10,000 homes”? Sounds good to me.

Except that, when you think about it, the 10,000 homes part is misleading. The average person who read that sentence copied from the news release and printed in the business section of Thursday’s Halifax Chronicle-Herald might be forgiven for thinking that because of the wind project, 10,000 homes won’t need to draw power from the coal-fired plants that supply about 75 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity.

It would be wonderful if that were true, but alas it’s not. If those 10,000 homes relied solely on power from these 15 wind turbines, their lights would be off about 70 per cent of the time. That’s because this particular wind operation is projected to operate at 33 per cent of its overall capacity. As the Good Book points out, “the wind bloweth where it wishes” — and when it wishes and the lazy thing never blows all the time.

In fact, if the Amherst wind operation does produce a third of its overall capacity, it will be outperforming Ontario’s wind facilities which generated only slightly more than one quarter of their total capacity last year.

News release is technically correct

Now, here’s where things get tricky. The premier’s news release is technically correct. If the Amherst facility did operate at 33 per cent capacity, it would produce an amount of electricity equivalent to the kilowatt hours used by 10,000 homes in a year. But here’s where things get trickier still. I’ll quote a few paragraphs from a cover story I wrote for the Coast last year:

“…critics of wind power point out that adding large amounts of industrial wind power to the electricity grid is not as simple or problem-free as it seems. That’s because wind is an intermittent and variable power source. It may or may not be blowing at optimum speeds when needed most. In fact, on average, wind turbines produce a maximum of only about 30 per cent of their rated capacity over a given year, often when electricity demand is low.

“The intermittency and variability of wind means it must be backed up by a more reliable source, and Nova Scotia Power is planning to use natural gas generators to do the job. That means that for every megawatt of intermittent wind power, NSPI must be able to generate a megawatt of power using natural gas turbines that can be turned up and down rapidly as winds rise and fall. Rapid powering up and down means the gas turbines run less efficiently, burning more fuel to generate each unit of electricity…

“In the end, all those extra single-cycle gas generators ever at the ready to back up intermittent wind turbines may emit enough greenhouse gases to cancel out most, if not all, of the emissions benefits of wind.”

So, what happened to my request for a correction that would clarify the misleading impression that the new wind farm would “power 10,000 homes”? Alas, by close of business Friday, I had still not heard back from Jennifer Stewart the media contact in the premier’s office whose name appears at the bottom of the release.

Maybe the correction will come on Monday — or maybe Tuesday will be my good news day. Or maybe not.

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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