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Ontario, Quebec turn to wind turbines for power
Canadian Press

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 homes.

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, called Summerview.

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" electricity.

"I certainly think the industry is poised for takeoff," says Estill.

"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 energy.

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 sources.

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 Exhibition.

"By next spring, you'll see dozens," he said. "Three years from now, we'll start talking in the hundreds."

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 to come.

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," Gilchrist said.

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 the plant?"

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."

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