Federal commitment is the missing ingredient

Policy advances in several provinces over the past year have started to bring much-needed clarity to the long-term prospects for Canada's wind energy market. However, the absence of the federal government from the equation means concerns persist about the industry's ability to attract the attention of investors.

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The country is expected to exceed 4GW of installed capacity by the end of 2010 and, with a further 8GW in line to be built over the next five years, as well as requests for proposals still out in the market that will add to that total, the industry is settling in for a period of sustained growth.

"The market, which has grown rapidly, now seems to be stabilising at a fairly high level of deployment relative to the past," says Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) president Robert Hornung.

A key question for the industry, though, is how long this level of activity will last. There has been significant uncertainty about provincial purchase plans for electricity beyond 2015, leaving thousands of megawatts of projects under development across the country without an obvious path to market.

Fortunately, says Hornung, that is starting to change. "I think we can say that, relative to a year ago, we have some more clarity around what that longer-term future looks like," he says.

Grid growth

Hornung points to Ontario, which in April awarded power purchase agreements to 48 wind projects totalling 1.5GW as part of the launch of its groundbreaking feed-in tariff (Fit) programme.

Fit’s first round used up all available transmission capacity in the province but government-owned grid operator Hydro One has started work on a new line that will provide 1.5GW of new transfer capacity to renewable energy projects.

The province also has what Hornung calls a fairly aggressive plan for further transmission build, targeted at bringing more wind energy resources online.

"While it’s true the timing of that is uncertain, it sends a signal and provides some confidence that the world will not stop in 2015 in Ontario," he says.

Further west, in Alberta, regulators have given the green light to plans for more than 3GW of new transmission, which is designed to serve the expected growth in wind energy over the next decade.

And neighbouring British Columbia, where six wind projects totalling 534MW emerged from BC Hydro’s recent call for clean energy, passed a new Clean Energy Act this year.

It lays out a framework for attracting investment to its renewable energy sector that provides some optimism for the industry’s future, says Hornung.

In the east, Nova Scotia has unveiled an energy strategy with a mandatory target of producing 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, and 40% by 2020.

Still, gaps in the long-term picture remain. Quebec is one of Canada’s major wind energy markets but also represents its biggest question marks.

Utility Hydro-Québec is expected to announce the winners of two requests for proposals for 500MW of smaller-scale wind power projects before the end of the year.

Once it does, virtually all the capacity it needs to meet its 4GW wind target by 2015 will be in place. "But at this point, there is no commitment and no vision as to what the post-2015 world will look like," says Hornung.

CanWEA wants to push the discussion forward at its November annual conference in Montreal, Quebec, by proposing a development plan for 2015–2025.

The hope, says Hornung, is that this will lead to new targets for Quebec and a fresh chance for dozens of projects currently in limbo.

Building cross-party support

At a federal level, says Hornung, the government’s decision not to use its 2010 budget to boost the depleted coffers of its incentive programme, ecoEnergy for Renewable Power, was a big setback for the industry.

Another, says Hornung, is the "ongoing failure" to set a framework for greenhouse gas reduction and carbon pricing, which could help investment. 

"It would be hard to find any other country where the federal government is playing such a limited role in stimulating the development of wind energy, at least among those that are actively pursuing wind," says Hornung.

The situation makes it more difficult for Canada to compete for investment, he says, and he doesn’t see things changing "within the current constellation of this parliament".

But, with an election expected in the next year or so, the industry is going to keep working to build support within all political parties. Hornung hopes the continued expansion of the sector will help to drive the point home.

In the first seven months of this year, eight projects, totalling 180MW, came online in Canada and another 574MW is likely to complete commissioning before the end of the year.

In 2011, the industry is almost certain to pass the 1GW milestone for annual capacity additions.

The country is also starting to see more investment in the supply chain, with new turbine component manufacturing capacity in the offing for Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

"These are good indicators that not only is wind growing in Canada, but its ability to deliver jobs and manufacturing opportunities is also becoming clearer," says Hornung.  

Diane Bailey is Canada correspondent for Windpower Monthly

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