Developer gambles on power pool -- Cowley Ridge expansion

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A planned expansion of southern Alberta's Cowley Ridge wind plant will be Canada's first wind generation facility to sell its power into the province's power pool on a "purely merchant basis," says company president John Keating. Calgary-based Canadian Hydro Developers plans to install five new wind turbines with a total capacity of 1.875 MW to the existing 18.9 MW wind farm, located near the community of Pincher Creek. The new turbines will produce about 5500 MWh a year.

"Canadian Hydro has decided to construct these new turbines on spec due to the buoyant spot market for electricity in Alberta," says Keating. Wholesale power prices in the province have averaged C$0.066/kWh so far this year. The output of the existing wind farm is sold to TransAlta Utilities under long term contracts signed as part of the Alberta small power research and development program.

Keating admits Canadian Hydro may be going out on a limb by relying on the spot market to price its power. But he says the company is able to take advantage of an experienced operations crew and existing infrastructure, including the transformer capacity at the site's substation, to keep costs down. "It's because we have an existing operation -- without hiring new people or doing any engineering as such -- that we can get this done. It's about as low cost as we can imagine doing it, so that's why we're doing it on a merchant basis."

In the longer term, Keating expects to find buyers who will pay for the power on a short term contract basis. "We know there's a green market here," he says. "We've been participating in Alberta marketplace for some years now and we're confident we'll get it placed."

The machines to be installed are "brand new" Kenetech KVS-33 units, which Keating acquired despite the fact the turbines have not been manufactured since Kenetech's bankruptcy in 1996. The turbines, the same model as those already installed at Cowley Ridge, will be assembled in Alberta at Canadian Hydro's Pincher Creek yard, and are expected to be operational by the end of August.

"Our timeline might be delayed if there's a delay in the delivery of new blades for the turbines, which we've ordered from Europe," says Keating. "But in any event, we'll have the machines up and ready to go and awaiting the blades."

Meanwhile, a sixth new turbine will be installed at Cowley Ridge to replace one "severely damaged" by winds that gusted to 47 metres a second in the Pincher Creek area on March 21. Two other turbines suffered minor damage and were back in operation within three days, says Keating. The rest of the machines in the 52-turbine wind farm shut down safely and remained unscathed. "The good news is the wind plant showed just how robust it is," says Keating.

Rival wind power developer Vision Quest Windelectric experienced a ten-minute "high wind shutdown" during the same period but suffered no damage to its 600 kW Castle River East wind turbine near Pincher Creek, says executive director Jason Edworthy. Its three other turbines near the community of Hillspring were not affected.

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