Ontario, Quebec turn to wind turbines
CALGARY - With Canada's largest wind farm newly completed
on the Alberta Prairie and strong commitments for more
renewable power to be generated in Ontario and Quebec,
wind energy appears poised for large-scale expansion.
Nestled in the wind corridor that blows out of the Crowsnest
Pass in southern Alberta, the McBride Lake wind farm sports
114 new turbines that can produce up to 75 megawatts of
electricity. One megawatt is enough power for about 5,000
Once the permits and investment dollars are in place,
wind farms can pop up like weeds -- McBride took only
200 days to assemble.
Vision Quest Windelectric Inc., a wholly owned arm of
independent power giant TransAlta, celebrated the completion
of McBride by moving on to its larger project nearby,
Summerview will have 75 turbines, but following an industry
trend they will be significantly larger windmills and
produce up to 120 megawatts if the permits are granted.
Glen Estill, the Ontario-based president of the Canadian
Wind Energy Association, says southwestern Alberta has
the "absolute perfect combination" of outstanding
winds, a deregulated industry, high provincial power prices
and a developing consumer market for premium "green"
"I certainly think the industry is poised for takeoff,"
"The neat thing about Canada is we have an awful
lot of wind. We're the second-largest land mass with the
longest coastline and there are some good winds in every
province of the country," he said.
"And that, at end of day, is a vital ingredient,"
says Estill, who is also president of tiny wind development
company Sky Generation Inc.
Another vital ingredient is the political will for wind
power, which currently makes up about 311 megawatts countrywide.
Compare that with a total installed electricity capacity
of about 110,000 megawatts in Canada and it's clear how
small a role wind generation now plays.
But the wind energy association has an ambitious target
of 10,000 megawatts installed by 2010 and it says massive
wind energy expansion in Germany over the past eight years
proves that goal is entirely attainable.
Ontario and Quebec are poised to lead the way.
In May, Hydro-Quebec issued a call for tenders to build
a 1,000-megawatt wind farm between 2006 and 2012. It will
dwarf the existing 102-megawatt facilities now in place
in the Gaspe region.
"We want to make it 10 times bigger," says
spokesman Marc-Brian Chamberland.
In Ontario, where aging nuclear power facilities, dirty
coal-fired plants and electricity brownouts have plagued
the ruling Tories over the past few years, a new strategy
was unveiled this month to dramatically increase renewable
Backbencher Steve Gilchrist, Ontario's commissioner of
alternative energy, says the plan will create at least
3,000 megawatts of clean power by 2014. And the province
believes the bulk of that will come from hydro and wind
Gilchrist says wind power is cheaper than natural gas-fired
electricity and he expects windmills to begin popping
up along the shores of the Great Lakes very soon. Toronto's
Lake Ontario waterfront already sports a giant municipally
owned windmill on the grounds of the Canadian National
"By next spring, you'll see dozens," he said.
"Three years from now, we'll start talking in the
Gilchrist says the economics of building expensive cogeneration
(electricity and steam) natural gas-fired power plants
has changed as gas prices are mired in "absolute
uncertainty" and expected to stay high for years
Meanwhile, wind power costs have come down with technological
advances. After the up-front construction costs, the price
per kilowatt remains very low since no fuel is required.
"If you want to make your multi-hundred-million
investment on the basis of pure speculation, idle musings
and crystal balls, you may still choose natural gas,"
Mike Crawley, president of Toronto-based Aim Powergen,
says the big driver for wind power expansion will be purchase
agreements with the province.
"The biggest question has always been: Who's going
to buy your power? Who's going to buy the output from
Crawley said power purchase deals for wind farms need
to be at least 15 years long to cover nearly the entire
term of the debt, so investors will feel comfortable enough
to get into the new sector.
"It's a great way to get private-sector financing
for new electricity supply which is for the greater good."