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Canada

STRATEGY RECOMMENDS SET ASIDES; Quebec energy debate

A "depoliticised" new energy strategy for the Canadian province of Quebec advances four recommendations to stimulate the provincial wind energy industry. It also details plans for a new regulatory body to oversee Hydro Quebec and the gas industry.

Releasing the strategy report last month, Quebec's energy and resources minister Guy Chevrette, pledged to implement its key recommendations. Entitled "For an Energy-Efficient Quebec," the 150 page document was developed during a year of broad public discussion and was approved unanimously by the 13 member round table which guided the debate (Windpower Monthly, September 1995).

Throughout the process there was more support for wind than for any other energy source except water. Quebec, says the government, has 58% of Canada's entire wind energy potential. As well as grid applications, wind plant could also be twinned with diesel electricity generation in off grid communities.

In its first recommendation on wind energy, the report urges Quebec to consider the wind as a "national asset" and suggests the provincial utility, Hydro Quebec, assume responsibility for mapping and classifying the resource. The utility would be expected to widely distribute information about wind patterns, its wind research and development, and wind plant operating data.

In another recommendation, the report urges that a fixed share of Quebec's future electricity generation capacity be set aside for wind plant. No specific percentage was advised by the report, which states this could be a job for Quebec's proposed new energy regulator. The report adds that the manufacture of wind equipment in Quebec would count as a major benefit to proponents bidding for electricity sales contracts from Hydro Quebec.

Benefits highlighted

In more encouragement for wind, the report said the electricity industry should aim for smaller, decentralised generation and distribution facilities, closer to electricity users. It said that wind will enhance the flexibility of Hydro Quebec's grid system, especially at times of low water and high consumer demand. The capacity of the grid is over 95% hydroelectric. During the winter, strong winds increase heating needs and establish a direct physical link between energy supply and demand.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) calculates a solid job creation potential of 16.8 person-years per million dollars invested in wind energy, assuming that all equipment is made in Quebec. In its submission to the round table, which included representatives of aboriginal groups, environmentalists, the Quebec oil and gas industry, consumer and labour groups, and Hydro Quebec, CanWEA called attention to the flexible nature of wind energy: 150 wind turbines of 500 kW each installed annually in Quebec from 1997 to 2010 would produce 56% as much energy as a 1000 MW centralised generating facility operating at a 60% capacity factor. The modular addition of new wind capacity, argued CanWEA, would avoid the risk of a single large investment in conventional energy.

Independent regulator

A number of intervenors in the energy debate favoured the development of wind energy along the north and south shores of the Saint Lawrence River, including the Gaspe Peninsula, where Kenetech Windpower is developing a 100 MW wind farm for Hydro Quebec. Kenetech also plans to build a 5 MW wind farm in the off-grid Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Over and above its encouragement of wind and other new renewable energy technologies, the report's major strategic recommendation was for the establishment of an independent and non-political energy board to regulate the electricity and gas sectors, with full public participation. The current regulator of Hydro Quebec is a committee of the National Assembly (the Quebec parliament) which has no energy expertise.

A second key strategic recommendation promotes the application of integrated resource planning in the energy field, a clear signal of the government's intention to aim for sustainable energy development. Privatisation, however, is ruled out as a "bad deal." Hydro Quebec, the report stresses, could become the most energy efficient utility in North America with better regulation by the proposed new energy board and input from consumers and environmental groups. Furthermore, its costs would be reduced if it were forced to compete with private sector proponents of new renewable energy technologies.

A member of the round table, Francois Tanguay of Greenpeace Quebec, pointed out that Quebec has the lowest electricity rates in North America, some 30-40% lower than Hydro Ontario. "Privatisation will not benefit the consumer, who is both the customer and the owner," Tanguay says, adding that Quebec electricity rates are so cheap they are publicly perceived to be almost subsidised.

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