Alberta activists push pro-wind policy

CANADA: Wind-energy advocates in the province of Alberta are pushing for the creation of an emissions-based clean energy standard (CES) to help drive low-carbon investment in Canada's only competitive power market.

The province's energy department is developing an alternativeand renewable-energy policy. Officials held an information-gathering session with around 30 industry stakeholders in the autumn and are developing a white paper for review by the provincial cabinet. Once approved, the paper will form the basis for a broader public consultation.

Both the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) and the Alberta Clean Electricity (ACE) Coalition, which includes energy industry heavyweights such as Shell Canada and Suncor Energy, want Alberta to adopt a CES that would impose a maximum greenhouse gas emissions-intensity level on electricity sold in the province, measured in kilograms per megawatt hour.

"The idea is that electricity retailers would need to make sure that their supply portfolio has a cap on carbon emissions," explained Tim Weis, director of the renewable-energy and efficiency programme at the Pembina Institute, a sustainable-energy thinktank that is a member of the ACE coalition. "As the years go by you'd be ratcheting that number down," he added.

The approach is designed to meet the unique requirements of the Alberta market, according to Weis. Both the government and the electricity industry have steadfastly resisted any policy measures that single out specific technologies for support.

"We felt, looking at it through the Alberta lens, that this would be palatable in the current market. It's technology neutral, so you could do it through carbon capture and storage, you could do it through high-efficiency natural gas, you could do it through wind energy," explained Weis.

Alberta's current generation mix is 45% coal, 41% natural gas, 7% hydro and 5% wind, with 2% from other sources including biomass. Requiring retailers to comply with an emissions-based cap while operating within a system dominated by thermal sources could make a big difference to the investment climate for wind, said Brian Murphy, CanWEA's Alberta policy manager.

Although the policy development process is at an early stage, Murphy is hopeful it will result in something that will work for wind. The province has a new premier, Alison Redford, who has repeatedly expressed her openness to finding ways to bring more renewable power into the mix. In a province where the much larger and higher-profile oil and gas sector tends to dominate the political agenda, the support of the premier is crucial.