Canada - Record year ahead as thoughts turn to future

CANADA: Canada is likely to have its best year ever in 2013 as a building boom fuelled by a long pipeline of contracted projects continues.

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But the coming months may be even more important for the visibility they provide into the long-term sustainability of the country's wind sector.

canada capacitypieMore than 1.6GW of new wind is anticipated this year as construction in Quebec and Ontario, the country's two major markets, kicks into high gear. "You're starting to see some of the long timeline policies of the past start to materialise in terms of actual build levels," says Matt DaPrato, senior research analyst at consultancy IHS Emerging Energy Research.

Quebec will lead the way, with as much as 1.1GW scheduled to be completed in 2013, followed by Ontario with 400MW. Quebec also came top in 2012, when its 431MW of new capacity accounted for 46% of the 936MW installed across Canada.

Canada's 2012 total was a drop from the record 1.3GW installed in 2011 and below the 1.2GW projected by the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA). This was mainly a timing issue, with commissioning of some Quebec projects stretching into early 2013.

But the fact that Ontario, with thousands of megawatts in the construction queue, managed to add only 74MW was also a factor. "This is a relatively small number and is reflective of the fact that permitting timelines have taken longer than expected," says CANWEA president Robert Hornung.


Canada capacity map

This year's construction rebound will be a sustained one, says Hornung, with an average 1.5GW a year projected for the next few years. "We expect that by 2016 our installed wind capacity will actually be double what it is today," he adds.

What next?

It is the question of what happens after that time, however, that has long weighed on Canada's wind industry. There is relatively little in the way of new wind purchases in the offing right now. Quebec is expected to issue a request for proposals in 2013 for 700MW of new capacity to complete its plan to have 4GW of wind on its system by 2015. The industry is also hoping to see another round of contract awards this year under Ontario's feed-in tariff (FIT) programme. The province, however, only needs to buy about 1.5GW more wind to hit its target of 10.7GW of renewable energy by 2018. "This is not enough to maintain a sustainable industry," says Hornung.

The next year will be pivotal in providing investors with much-needed clarity about where Canada's wind market is headed. Ontario will assess its supply and demand forecast at the end of the year to decide how renewables fit into its future electricity mix, while the Quebec government is expected to begin consultations on a new post-2015 energy strategy this spring.

In Alberta, wind producers, who are struggling against power prices driven down by low natural gas prices and difficulty financing projects in a deregulated market with few long-term power purchase agreements, are hoping that the provincial government's interest in boosting clean energy production will help turn things around. Alberta's energy ministry will start consultations on an alternative and renewable energy policy in 2013, says spokesman Kimberly Budd, with its findings delivered to government by the end of the year.

In British Columbia, government-owned utility BC Hydro will issue its 20-year integrated resource plan in August, setting the stage for wind's long-term growth. "The economic downturn means that projections of electricity demand growth are lower than we would have expected just a few years ago," says Hornung.

The industry is going to have to fight for its share of a smaller pie against energy competitors. Getting governments to confront the long-term cost of new electricity supply and see wind as a cost-competitive option, especially while natural gas prices are low, is also a challenge.

Honest about prices

"We need to have an adult conversation about electricity in Canada, and the first thing we need to do is be honest about cost," Hornung says. "While it will take political courage, we need to acknowledge that electricity prices are on their way up. Canadians have been living off decades-old electricity infrastructure investments for so long that they no longer have any appreciation for the true costs of electricity generation."

The politics of energy will be of particular relevance in Ontario. The province is likely to be plunged back into an election just months after the governing Liberals, the architects of the FIT programme, won with a slim victory over a Conservative opposition bent on ending what it sees as overly generous tariffs for renewables.

The World Trade Organisation's December ruling that the FIT programme's domestic content provisions violate international trade agreements also poses a risk. Rejuvenating Ontario's manufacturing sector was one of the main justifications for the decision to implement a FIT, and the WTO has now thrown that into question. "It will be interesting to see if the political support for the FIT programme begins to erode," says DaPrato.

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