Giant wind farm proposed

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An international wind power development group is proposing to build a wind farm of several hundred megawatt in the Pincher Creek area of southwestern Alberta in Canada. The project has attracted the attention of the Alberta premier, Ralph Klein, who set up a government task force to assess the proposal, presented by York WindPower of Montreal, Wind Power Inc of Pincher Creek and German wind turbine maker Enercon.

In an innovative approach to gain support for the proposal, the group is seeking allies in the Alberta oil and gas industry. Investment in wind power by these giants, the group points out, would help them meet their commitments to reducing C02 emissions. Involvement in the project is also hoped for from provincial utilities reliant on coal fired generation.

The proposal submitted to the Alberta government is for a C$1.5 billion wind plant to be built in stages of 25 average MW each year over a ten year period. Pincher Creek, located in the wind-swept foothills of the Rocky Mountains, already hosts Canada's largest wind plant -- a 19.8 MW facility of 52 Kenetech 33 KVS turbines at Cowley Ridge. The first power from the new proposal would be generated around 1998 or 1999.

"This plant would benefit the entire electricity system of southern Alberta," says Dale Johnson of Wind Power Inc, which developed half of the Cowley Ridge facility. The proponents say a local Enercon wind turbine manufacturing facility would be a key part of the project, which could grow to a C$5.5 billion investment over 30 years, creating 500 direct jobs and about 2000 indirect jobs. To carry out the scheme Johnson has teamed up with Enercon and with York WindPower, a subsidiary of York Research Corp in New York, a developer and operator of cogeneration and alterative energy. York WindPower was at one time working together with Danish Vestas to develop wind power in Quebec. Enercon is the largest turbine manufacturer in Germany with a 30% share of the market there.

Another innovation in the proposal -- and the purpose of the approach to government -- was to obtain support for "green energy pricing" of the electricity generated within the new Alberta power pool, says Johnson. "We want a mechanism which would allow consumers to choose green kilowatt hours," he adds.

Project sponsors say the cost of new wind energy is close to that of electricity from new natural gas-fuelled plant -- at C$0.0375-0.05/kWh. Comparison with a new coal plant further increases wind's competitiveness, they claim. The marginal cost of electricity from Alberta's existing, depreciated coal fuelled power plants is estimated at C$0.01-0.015/kWh, while the average price in the Alberta power pool is about C$0.02/kWh. But this is without taking full cycle costs of new power generation into consideration.

The developers first presented their proposal to the Alberta government in late July, says Johnson. Klein's task force was to report by September 20. The Pincher Creek Economic Development Board, which already has a proposal to install wind turbines to meet the base load electricity of the town (Windpower Monthly, May 1996), has estimated the new project would cut carbon dioxide emissions in Alberta by more than four million tons annually, providing a valuable credit to the province's existing fossil fuel industry. Johnson says the proposers of the wind scheme want to meet the Alberta based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to persuade it to ask for the delivery of green kWh to their various installations. That would help the industry avoid or at least delay the imposition by Ottawa of strong measures aimed at achieving Canada's emission reduction targets, such as carbon or energy taxes. "This proposal is a tremendous opportunity for the fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy industry to become partners," comments Johnson.

Surprisingly, the German owner of the project's technology supplier does not lend his support to the scheme. Enercon's Aloys Wobben says: "I am sceptical about the sense of going ahead with projects where the proposed price to be paid for the electricity generated is extremely low. Is such practice in wind's favour at all? If the general market expectation is for under four or five cents, then the market will sooner or later collapse." In Germany, Wobben's market is being pressed by utilities calling for lower rates of pay for wind power.

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