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Canada

New energy policy signals about turn -- Very, very positive

British Columbia (BC) has released a new energy strategy requiring zero net greenhouse gas emissions from all new electricity projects and calling for the Canadian province to be energy self-sufficient by 2016, with 90% of the power coming from clean or renewable resources. In view of the province's lukewarm embrace of renewable energy until now, the new direction represents a significant step forward," says Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) president Robert Hornung. At the same time, he says, the devil is in the details. "It's now a matter of rolling up the sleeves and doing the detailed work so those directions can be implemented."

One of the key measures for wind power producers is a commitment that "government and BC Hydro will also look for ways to further recognise the value of intermittent resources, such as run-of-river and wind, in the acquisition process." The utility should look at technologies which deliver variable volumes of power from a portfolio perspective, the strategy says, pointing out that a mix of fuel types and geographic locations can increase the overall predictability of non-firm energy sources. "Any net increase in value should be reflected in the choices made by BC Hydro when determining which resources are required to meet its needs and in determining how to value these resources."

The recommendation, says Hornung, responds to concerns raised by the wind industry over a monthly firm bid requirement in BC Hydro's 2006 all-source call for power that, developers argued, unfairly penalised wind's short-term variability. "That is very, very positive," says Hornung.

The government has also promised standard offer power purchase contracts for clean electricity or high efficiency electricity cogeneration projects up to 10 MW in size. The aim is to create a way for small scale development of renewables. "The province is concerned about the size of the administrative burden for small project proponents to bid on BC Hydro calls," the strategy says. The recommendation is one both CanWEA and the BC Sustainable Energy Association support. "This is something we have been recommending for a long time," says Guy Dauncey, president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. "Our only concern is the price that will be offered to producers of solar, wind and tidal energy." The strategy says pricing will be based on the most recent call results and updated regularly.

Improved prospects

The decision to require all new electricity projects to have zero net greenhouse gas emissions and all existing thermal generation to reach that target by 2016 is a significant one, says Hornung, particularly in light of the fact BC Hydro signed contracts with two coal-fired plants in its 2006 call.

"It indicates a desire to ensure if there is going to be any further development with those sorts of technologies their environmental impact will be mitigated," he says. "That will increase the attractiveness of wind and increase its cost competitiveness relative to fossil forms of generation."

The cost of the measure, says the strategy, will depend on the province's policy for offsetting emissions, which the environment and energy ministries will develop over the next several months. Whatever is settled on, says Hornung, wind power needs to play a role. "We have taken the consistent position that if there is any trading system established for pollutants, wind energy should be able to participate in that system, either through the provision of offsets or through the granting of allowances in a cap and trade system," he says.

Without subsidy

"At the end of the day, we all know direct government support for wind energy is not permanent. We have to move to a situation where the market reflects the environmental benefits that wind energy brings to the table." One option emitters may have is contributing to a planned new C$25 million Innovative Clean Energy Fund designed to support the development of clean power and energy efficiency technologies.

While wind power is already a commercial technology, the strategy says, it could benefit from other types of assistance "such as the dissemination of information and technology transfer, or government taking leadership in applying the technologies in government operations." The fund will be financed through a "small charge" on electric and gas services.

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