Vast potential going to waste -- British Columbia

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The west coast of Canada has enough onshore wind to make British Columbia (BC) a major player in the global wind industry, but only if there is a "firm desire" to implement the financial incentives necessary to kickstart development. The limiting factor is cost, says a new study by Montreal's Helimax Energy.

The study looks at three coastal communities, two on the northern tip of Vancouver Island and one on the north coast. It finds a combined wind potential of 4800 MW. Given the current accessibility to roads and transmission, the study estimates that 1200 MW could be in operation by 2011.

But the gap between the cost of adding combined-cycle gas generation to BC Hydro's generation portfolio and an economically viable selling price for wind needs bridging. Depending on the price of gas and average wind speeds, the cost difference between the two ranges from zero to C$0.05/kWh. While Canada's federal wind power production incentive can help make up the difference, the report points out that is an after-tax value of only about C$0.007/kWh and sets a limit on the amount of support each province can receive to 300 MW. A voluntary commitment by utility BC Hydro to supply 10% of new electricity supplies from renewables would result in "barely tens of MW" by 2011, it adds.

"Additional measures must be put in place to bridge these gaps," the study concludes. "The development of greenhouse gas offsets constitutes one such measure."


Renewable energy advocates, however, are concerned that the province's recently elected Liberal government is focusing too much on fossil fuel resources. The government has committed C$2 million for technological research into what it calls the "enormous opportunities" in BC's offshore oil and gas deposits and wants a moratorium on their development lifted.

"The future can be bright and prosperous for BC's coastal communities, but not if the BC government remains fixated on developing offshore oil," says Catherine Stewart of Greenpeace, which joined forces with the Living Oceans Society to commission the Helimax report. "Wind is clean, oil is dirty. Wind is limitless, oil is finite. Wind is labour intensive, oil is machine intensive. It's time Premier Gordon Campbell pulls his head out of the oil barrel, supports Kyoto and starts building a sustainable future for BC."

In addition to offshore oil, BC is looking at how its vast coal resources might play a major role in its energy future. The province has estimated coal reserves of more than 255 billion tonnes, but currently has no coal-fired generation. However, BC's energy policy task force believes that should change, saying in an interim report that coal "could be utilised as a significant component of British Columbia's energy potential." While the task force also sees "significant potential" in the development of alternative energy sources, its interim report offered few specifics on how to go about it (Windpower Monthly, February 2002).

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