Ontario sees wind as generation future -- Agency goes for 5000 MW

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Ontario should target the installation of 5000 MW of wind power by 2025, says the agency responsible for ensuring an adequate long term supply of electricity in Canada's largest power market. But the wind energy industry says it could get there much more quickly than envisioned by the Ontario Power Authority's (OPA) newly released advice on the province's future supply mix.

The target, equivalent to about 15% of Ontario's expected generating capacity, was one of the recommendations in a five volume report examining the province's options for meeting new demand and replacing retiring generation units, which combined will require the installation of a staggering 24,000 MW of new generation over the next 20 years at an estimated cost of C$70 billion.

The volume of electricity supplied by renewable sources should increase dramatically over that time frame, says the OPA, with wind as the major contributor. But it also cautioned that the "costs and planning issues" associated with integrating large amounts of variable, non-dispatchable generation on the grid need to be taken into account. "For this reason, an upper limit of 15% on the share of installed wind capacity in total supply appears to be a practical and reasonable assumption until there is more experience with integration of wind on an even larger scale."

Reaction to the report from the wind industry is mixed, says Robert Hornung of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). "On the positive side, the OPA is talking about wind being 15% of all generating capacity in Ontario. It would have been hard to believe the Ontario government would have been talking about that as recently as a couple of years ago. In that sense, it is clear that wind has made some significant inroads," he says. "On the other hand, though, we were very surprised by the time frame they are talking about, in terms of leaving it to 2025."

The report, which will form the basis for development of the province's first 20 year Integrated Power System Plan, is open for public comment until February 12. CanWEA, says Hornung, will argue the timeline for reaching 5000 MW of wind capacity should be accelerated to 2015, or even earlier. "Ontario still has a situation where it needs to move very quickly to replace power. Some of the other options that were talked about in the report, which the OPA itself acknowledges, are very long term kinds of development."

Half from nuclear

One of the most controversial recommendations made by the OPA is that nuclear power plants should continue to supply about 50% of Ontario's electricity needs, necessitating the addition of between 9400 MW and 12,400 MW of new or refurbished capacity by 2025. Gas-fired additions should be limited to strategic applications where avoided costs are particularly high, like relieving transmission constraints. The report also points out that gas-fired generation could complement wind power in the summer, when gas prices and wind production both tend to be at their lowest.

CanWEA also plans to suggest a proposed schedule for new wind power procurement past the 955 MW which was contracted by government in eight projects announced in November (Windpower Monthly, December 2005). A year earlier, it approved five wind projects totalling 355 MW, four of which are expected to be in service this year. The results of another request for proposals for 200 MW of renewable energy projects less than 20 MW in size are expected in the spring.

Raise the wind limit

Hornung also argues that as Ontario gains more experience with wind on the grid, the OPA and system operators should be working with industry to be "constantly investigating and challenging" the concept of a 15% limit on wind power capacity. "In fact, in the report itself, the OPA acknowledges that it may well be possible to go further. They just haven't studied it yet. We'd like to encourage them to proceed with that and we want to contribute to that," he says.

A study of Ontario's wind power potential conducted for the OPA by Montreal-based Helimax Energy found that there are 7000-9000 MW of exploitable potential within either ten kilometres of high-voltage transmission lines or five kilometres of distribution stations. But it also points out that 95% of Ontario's wind resources lie effectively out of reach of the existing electric transmission system. At the same time, however, the province is in negotiations with neighbouring Manitoba for new hydro purchases that would require a major new interconnection between the two jurisdictions.

"The greatest potential, in Ontario's north, will likely not be tapped within the time horizon of this advice. It is worth taking this into consideration if plans are developed for a transmission line for purchases from Manitoba, because the routing of this line could take into account the rich wind resources that lie between James Bay and the Manitoba-Ontario border."

Other generation targets recommended by the OPA include 1500 MW of new hydro, 1250 MW of hydro imports, 500 MW of biomass, 40 MW of solar and 250 MW of coal gasification by 2025.

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