Quebec utility wind target doubles -- Government boost

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Quebec's Energy Minister, Rita Dionne-Marsolais, wants Hydro-Quebec to double its projected wind power purchases to 100 MW a year over ten years. Until now, the utility's strategic plan for 2002-2006 aimed for purchases of just 50 MW a year, but not starting until 2004 at the earliest. Dionne-Marsolais said last month she will recommend approval of the strategic plan to the Quebec cabinet, but with the more ambitious target. Hydro-Quebec is a government owned utility. It should buy wind energy at "competitive prices," says Dionne-Marsolais.

Hydro-Quebec's strategy makes it clear that the utility plans to use its purchasing power to encourage the development of a wind industry in the province's Gaspé region, a goal the minister shares. The area, she says, has both the wind resource and transmission capacity to become an industry leader in North America. "It is expected that demand for wind energy will increase quickly in North America, in particular in the United States, and the Gaspé region is in advantageous position to benefit from it," she says.

Guy Painchaud, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, welcomes the minister's announcement, but adds that any plan to increase Hydro-Quebec's wind target must be acted upon. "A plan remains a plan unless it is implemented," says Painchaud. For its part Hydro-Quebec declines to comment specifically on the 100 MW target, but the utility's Sylvain Croteau says the company "recognises wind power as an important growing market in Quebec" and that independent power producers are in the best position to develop it.

The Gaspé Peninsula, which juts into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is the site of the 100 MW Le Nordais wind project, Canada's largest wind farm. The provincial government has long seen wind development and turbine manufacturing as a way to create jobs in the economically depressed region. In fact, the Quebec government has contributed C$1.9 million to the construction of three "Canadianised" prototype wind turbines at Riviere-du-Renard at the tip of the peninsula.

Jeumont prototypes

The project is being developed by the Groupement Eolien Quebecois (GEQ), a consortium of Quebec companies led by Montreal's Helimax Energy. The partners are adapting the French-built Jeumont 750 kW J48 wind turbines to Canada's sometimes harsh climate.

The federal government recently announced a C$2.2 million "repayable contribution" to the $7.1 million project, which will see all the turbine components, except the generator, electrics and blades, built in the province. Construction of the 2.25 MW demonstration site is expected to begin this month.

By supporting the project, says Secretary of State Claude Drouin, the government is contributing to the development of "unique technological expertise" in Quebec. "Canada currently lacks any manufacturers of high-power wind turbines," Drouin says. "The GEQ project will help develop local technological expertise and generate some forty jobs, with two-thirds of them in the Gaspesie at the demonstration site."

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