Quebec wind critical to support economy

A proposal for Quebec to triple its wind energy target is not only feasible, say industry advocates, it's essential if the province is to maintain the industrial base that has emerged over the past six years.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA) unveiled a plan at its annual conference in Montreal that would see the province build on its target of 4GW of wind by 2015 and add 8GW to its grid by 2025 (see page 53).

"CANWEA believes it is critical to have a discussion about a wind energy strategy in Quebec that extends beyond 2015, and the time to do this is now," said president Robert Hornung. "Investors are planning today for the investments they will make a few years down the road. Quebec must send a signal soon that it wants some of those investments to come to this province."

Part of Quebec's challenge is that, by the end of this year, its government-owned monopoly utility will have awarded power purchase agreements to virtually all of the projects needed to meet the 4GW goal.

Uncertainty over what comes next has left developers wondering whether they should keep working in the province, said Hornung. It also threatens jobs in Quebec's nascent turbine manufacturing sector, fostered through a government strategy that combines large power purchases and local content regulations.

"What will happen after 2015 is a day-to-day concern," said Frederic Cote, general manager of the TechnoCentre eolien, a non-profit organisation that promotes the development of a Quebec-based wind sector.

As well as supplying Quebec projects, component manufacturers in the province also export to the US and other Canadian provinces. "To sustain that, you need to have some significant domestic demand for your products," Cote said. CANWEA's proposal would put something concrete on the table to ensure that demand is there, he added.

Bold ambition

Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec's deputy premier and natural resources minister, has described the proposal as bold and ambitious. She assured conference delegates there would be future wind development opportunities in the province.

The government, said Normandeau, sees development of the sparsely populated northern three-quarters of Quebec as key to the province's economic future. Its plan includes exploiting mining, forestry and tourism opportunities; but energy, specifically wind energy, may have the most potential.

A study of energy opportunities in the region found a wind resource potential of 4TW. "Obviously, this theoretical potential still relies on its integration with existing networks, but it highlights the possibilities that exist," said Normandeau.

Most of Quebec's energy ambitions are on hydropower. Build has started on a 1.5GW hydroelectric complex on the La Romaine river, and 3GW more is slated after 2015.

Gaetan Lafrance, an honourary professor at the University of Quebec's Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, looked at replacing the 3GW plan with 8GW of wind. He found that the added capacity could be integrated without any grid management problems and that it may also be better financially. "I expect wind energy after 2015 will have a lower price than hydro, so I think it is a better option," says Lafrance.