BC power exports can save wind projects

CANADA: British Columbia's plan to target export markets for clean power generation opens up new possibilities for developers in a province where limited options for selling their power has left viable wind projects in limbo.

The provincial government tabled its much-anticipated Clean Energy Act this spring, laying out a series of sweeping policy changes aimed at making the province what energy minister Blair Lekstrom calls a "supplier of choice for clean energy in Canada and the United States".

Key among those changes is the creation of a new model that would see government-owned BC Hydro secure long-term export power sales and then contract with renewable energy producers for the supply it needs. The utility would use its hydro storage capability to firm and shape intermittent renewable generation to meet customer requirements.

"There's lots of reason to be optimistic," says David Huggill, western policy manager for the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA). What is needed now, he adds, are details on how the new export plan will work.

Historically, BC Hydro has only traded with neighbouring markets in the US and Alberta on a short-term basis and only contracted for renewable energy supply to help meet domestic demand. Its most recent request for proposals was hugely oversubscribed, with bidders offering three times more energy than the utility wanted to buy.

Aeolis Wind Power, based in Victoria, is one of the developers that didn't make the cut. It has a 600MW fully permitted project ready to go at its Thunder Mountain site in northeastern BC. "We're very happy to see the government looking to the future on exports," says TJ Schur, the company's director of external relations. "There's a bit of a strategic shift for us, but when you have a shovel-ready project with an incredible resource on it, you can't let it sit."

Having a new path to market may be particularly important in light of other initiatives under way to meet BC demand, says Huggill. Just before tabling the Clean Energy Act, Lekstrom announced the province would move ahead with a long-standing proposal to build the 900MW Site C dam on the Peace River. The act also requires the utility to meet 66% of its future incremental demand from conservation and efficiency improvements. Those measures, combined with purchases under recent clean power and bioenergy calls, means that the utility is likely to have enough supply to meet domestic demand.

"Right now, based on the numbers that BC Hydro has put forward, they really don't need any more," says Huggill.

Energy switch

One area where the new act could have substantial implications for BC's future electricity demand, though, is in a provision that would encourage switching one kind of energy source or use to another that decreases greenhouse gas emissions in the province. That could include converting from petrol to renewables-generated electricity in the transport sector and from natural gas to electricity in the building sector, options that Schur hopes will be examined as part of the utility's coming 30-year integrated resource plan (IRP). The legislation directs BC Hydro to have the plan ready within 18 months.

To promote renewable energy, the Clean Energy Act is streamlining approval processes, and facilities built for export will be exempt from review by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC). The bill also exempts a number of clean energy projects and programmes currently under way in the province, including those that received contracts under the recent clean power call. Additionally, the government, not the BCUC, will approve BC Hydro's long-term IRP in order to advance its energy objectives and priorities without regulatory redundancy. The act also merges BC Hydro and the government-owned BC Transmission to provide a single point of planning and authority for the grid.

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