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Contracts - Wind wins deals in hydro-dominated BC

NORTH AMERICA: Six wind power projects totalling 534MW of capacity have won power purchase contracts in what has been one of the toughest markets for the industry in Canada due to the dominance of hydropower.

The projects are among the 23 winners announced so far in BC Hydro's 2008 call for clean power and together will supply the government-owned utility with 1528GWh of firm electricity a year.

Vancouver-based Finavera Renewables was the biggest winner on the wind side, with BC Hydro accepting all four of its bids. The projects, which have a combined capacity of 293MW and an estimated capital cost of C$800 million, are scheduled to come online between 2012 and 2014. All are located in north-eastern British Columbia near Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd.

The largest single project to win a contract is Edmonton-based Capital Power Corporation's C$455 million, 142MW Quality wind project near Tumbler Ridge, which is expected online in 2013. The final wind project is the 99MW Knob Hill wind power project, located 35 kilometres north-west of Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island. Sea Breeze Power, a Vancouver developer, has been working on the project for seven years and is expected to complete construction in 2012.

The utility is also buying power from 16 run-of-river hydro facilities with a combined output of 1,327GWh a year, and one waste heat project that will supply 46GWh a year. BC Hydro is still negotiating with the developers of eight additional projects, all run-of-river hydro.

Wind moves in

British Columbia was the last Canadian province to bring wind onto its system, with its first project coming into service last year. While wind energy has been the undisputed leader of renewable energy technologies in the rest of the country, in British Columbia it has played second fiddle to run-of-river hydro. The West Coast province's mountainous terrain is veined with steep and deep creeks furnished by waters from glacier and snow melt, that can produce power that has been 10-20% cheaper than wind.

The market for wind has been improving as hydro developers exploit the most accessible sites and are forced to move further afield into areas more expensive to develop. But although six wind power projects were successful in this latest round of utility purchases, another 13 were not. They may not have to wait long to find out what the future has in store, however.

"Companies that were not successful in this call could have opportunities in the future with the introduction of the Clean Energy Act," says energy minister Blair Lekstrom.

The provincial government announced plans to table the act in its February throne speech, which laid out legislative priorities for the coming session. While little detail has emerged so far, it promised "a comprehensive strategy to put British Columbia at the forefront of clean energy development" that will include improved energy procurement and streamlined regulatory processes.

Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says the industry is encouraged by the government's plans and wants to work with the province to ensure the act "truly sets the stage" for British Columbia to develop wind to its full potential.

The throne speech also promised new transmission investments within the province, as well as new interconnections to boost electricity trading opportunities across Western Canada and into the United States.

Bruce Barrett, vice-president of major projects for the government-owned BC Transmission Corporation, says a recent study mapping out clean energy potential in the western part of North America found BC's readily available resources include almost 14GW of wind, more than 6GW of new hydro, almost 1GW of biomass and nearly 500MW of geothermal. "And that's a relatively conservative assessment," he says.

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