Push in Quebec to drop gas for wind -- Cost of wind disputed

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Hydro-Quebec should scrap plans for new gas-fired generation and instead call for another 3000 MW of wind energy, says the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). But Quebec's largest wind producer, the Axor Group, cautions that relying on wind to meet the province's growing electricity needs may not be the best solution.

CanWEA made the recommendation during hearings into the province's future energy requirements. The provincial government ordered the hearings after public protests forced it to postpone plans for a 840 MW gas-fired power plant at Suroît near Montreal. Hydro-Quebec says that without the project, the province could be facing an electricity supply shortage by 2007-2008.

CanWEA argues Quebec should look to wind. "The electricity that would have been produced by this project will be more than compensated for by the 3000 MW of new wind energy capacity." Hydro-Quebec should not only drop its Suroît plans, it says, but also reconsider a 550 MW cogeneration plant slated for construction near Trois-Rivières.

Not convinced

Axor, the owner and operator of Quebec's 100 MW Le Nordais wind project, is not convinced the province can rely solely on wind to meet its future electricity needs. It says that while wind provides environmental benefits and can add needed generation quickly, it is more expensive than hydro or gas generation and offers a less stable supply of electricity.

Axor points to the disappointing performance of Le Nordais, which over the past five years has operated at an unexpectedly low average capacity factor of 18%. Over the past 12 months, the project's Cap-Chat site had an average capacity factor of 16.5%. Based on this experience, Axor puts the cost of wind production at C$0.09/kWh. The company is getting C$0.058/kWh from Hydro-Quebec for the Le Nordais output.

Wind advocates have been quick to question Axor's conclusions. Greenpeace's Steven Guilbeault says the technology should not be dismissed because one wind farm failed to meet its objectives. He questions whether turbine availability, project design or site selection may have contributed to the low operating time ratio -- and says that neither the Cap-Chat nor Matane sites have wind speeds strong enough to make it into a recent study of wind potential by Montreal's Helimax Energy.

Quebec has 113 MW of installed wind capacity, another 99 MW under development, and a 1000 MW request for proposals pending, all of which would account for about 2.2% of the province's total electricity production. CanWEA's proposal to add 3000 MW by 2012 would boost wind's share to 7.5%. But, it says, that still represents only a fraction of a "massive wind energy resource" that should not be ignored.

The Helimax study, sponsored in part by CanWEA, identifies more than 100,000 MW of technically and economically viable wind potential south of the 53rd parallel in Quebec, an area that makes up about 55% of the province's land mass (Windpower Monthly, May 2004). Although it's unlikely all 100,000 MW could be exploited, says CanWEA, developing even 10% would increase wind's proportion of the province's supply mix to 15%.

Helimax also looked at wind energy production costs and found that for most of the 100,000 MW, they will decline from C$0.081/kWh in 2004 to C$0.07/kWh in 2010. The production cost for the 3852 MW of potential at sites with average wind speeds greater than 8 m/s is projected to be C$0.063/kWh in 2010.

"We believe that Quebec's massive wind energy potential, coupled with its existing hydroelectric resources, gives Quebec an opportunity to become a global leader with respect to wind energy as well as the leading producer and exporter of wind energy in North America," says CanWEA.

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