Canada

Canada

Special Report - A Guide to Wind Power Investment in Canada - Alberta - Alberta sets the bar for best practice

The investment climate for wind power in Canada's only competitive wholesale electricity market has improved since the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) lifted a 900 MW cap on wind capacity a year ago. The province, however, is not going to see a lot of increased development until the lack of grid capacity across the south is dealt with. "There is a lot more investment readiness and higher interest, but no more investment in hardware because of the transmission constraints," says Jason Edworthy from TransAlta Wind, a major player in the sector, based in Calgary. "It's still all about transmission."

In a country with just short of 3 GW of wind power online, Alberta has more than 11 GW of wind projects in the interconnection queue, about 9.5 GW of which is located in the south. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board approved the need for an estimated C$133 million worth of grid upgrades in the south-west back in May 2005. But the regulatory process for new transmission in Alberta is split into two stages. Once the need is approved, the company that operates the grid in the region where the upgrades are planned must file for a permit to construct and license to operate (P&L) based on its detailed siting plan for a new line. That application is only now going to a public hearing, scheduled to begin on December 1. Scott Schreiner of Altalink, the transmission company charged with building the new lines, estimates they will be in service in the second quarter of 2010, assuming the P&L decision is made in the first quarter of next year.

"This has been going on a long, long time. The real need has been known a long time. The legislated need has been known now for years. The material, as far as we know, has been bought and stockpiled in Fort McLeod. It just seems amazing, given the needs of this province, that it hasn't been done," says Edworthy. "So we're certainly taking every opportunity we can to participate, to encourage speed, and to facilitate things by showing our commitment to their schedule."

At the head of the line

TransAlta recently announced it is going ahead with construction of two 66 MW wind projects in the southwest, with the Blue Trail wind farm scheduled to come online by the end of 2009 and an expansion to its Summerview project expected to reach commercial operation in the first quarter of 2010. Both projects need the planned reinforcements, and the decision to commit to construction without knowing exactly when the new wires will be finished was a strategic one. When the new transfer capacity does come into service, it will only allow connection of another 600 MW or so. TransAlta wants to be at the head of the line, particularly at a time when electricity supply is tightening in the province and wholesale prices in the competitive market are rising.

"As a company, we have the ability to commit, and that is what we are going to do, because we are not going to have invested everything we have for years and be left high and dry for whatever period of time it will be before they do the bigger fix," says Kevin Van Koughnett, TransAlta's managing director of wind resources planning.

The bigger fix

Work on the bigger fix is underway. AESO began an extensive public consultation process in November 2007 to gather feedback on options to connect new wind across the entire southern part of the province. It is planning to file a need application in the autumn, expected to provide transmission access to about 3000 MW of wind energy between now and 2017, on top of 524 MW already operating in the province. By the time that much wind is online, the entire system is expected to be able to cater for about 12 GW of generating capacity overall. "I think that is a reasonable ratio. In fact, it is probably a pretty generous ratio to be planning for. It's pretty good," says Edworthy.

AESO's operations side has been focused on how it will integrate 3.5 GW of wind into the management of Alberta's power supply. When the wind cap was lifted, it was replaced with a set of rules and operational tools designed to let the market determine to what extent wind is developed in the province. Much of the past year has been spent figuring out the details of just how that framework will be implemented.

The work reached a milestone this spring, with completion of a year-long trial of wind forecasting techniques. The AESO is now using the results to determine what a forecasting system for Alberta will look like (Windpower Monthly, October 2008). It is also working with the industry to draw up technical requirements and protocols for dispatching wind generators. This may require wind turbines being taken offline in times of low demand and high generation to maintain system security or deal with a supply surplus. "There is future stuff we are looking at, too, in terms of how we procure ancillary services," says Warren Frost, AESO's vice president of operations and reliability. "But these are probably the critical things."

Frost expects to have a forecasting system and power management rules in place sometime in 2009. "We've come a long way in a very short time. Sometimes you have to look back to see that," he says. "One of the things that's surprised me a bit, and it's a pleasant surprise, is when I engage in discussion with people from other jurisdictions, I find we are on the leading edge."

An important piece

AESO's work was recognised in March by a panel of wind integration experts making up the United States Utility Wind Integration Group. Frost now chairs a newly created integration of variable generation task force for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Among its key goals is to identify a set of basic requirements for managing wind on an electricity system. "Sharing best practices is really important, so we're not reinventing the wheel. Also we're trying to make sure the wheel isn't getting reinvented for wind developers as they go from one jurisdiction to the next," he says.

For Edworthy, the work now being done on transmission and wind integration marks a change in attitude on the part of both AESO and the provincial government. Rather than dismissing wind as a niche technology that can't meet Alberta's power demands, he says, they now view it as an important piece in a portfolio of generation options. "That's where I think they've moved. As soon as you get rid of that thinking, that it has to be all or nothing, that's when you do the real work. That's the place we're at right now." Van Koughnett agrees: "They haven't quite got religion, but they have come a long way."

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