An evolutionary Arctic exercise

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Nunavut Power, the utility serving the vast territory of Nunavut in Canada's far north, is in discussions with two groups interested in developing wind projects in the Arctic territory. The utility issued a request for proposals (RFP) last year and received five project suggestions. Since then it has narrowed the field to the Arctic Wind Consortium and Nunavut Wind Power Inc.

"We're having ongoing discussions with them in an effort to finalise some technical and economic issues which will impact their business case and our final decision-making process, which may involve us choosing both or may result in us choosing neither," says Nunavut Power spokesman Lee Douglas.

Until those discussions are complete, Douglas is reluctant to release details about the groups or the projects they've proposed. But he does say that both are looking at a program that starts with the installation of a low to medium penetration wind-diesel system in a single community, allowing them to gain experience that could be applied to subsequent projects elsewhere in the territory. "This is certainly going to be an evolutionary type exercise," says Douglas.

Nunavut Power serves about 11,000 customers in 25 communities, almost all with a peak demand less than 2 MW, scattered across two million square kilometres of land extending north and west of Hudson's Bay to the North Magnetic Pole. Long term meteorological data collected by Environment Canada indicates that more than half may have an exploitable wind resource that could displace part of the 37,838 cubic metres of diesel fuel burned to generate a year's supply of electricity.

How that may translate into turbines in the ground is a difficult question to answer at this stage, says Douglas. "The potential for wind will be limited by the communities that have promising resources and it will also be limited by the interest of developers and the technology that is out there," he says.

The utility has had some experience with wind power over the past decade, although success has been limited in an environment where severe cold and high winds take their toll on the turbines and maintenance support from the south is expensive and slow.

The success of wind in Nunavut is going to depend, at least in part, on the creativity of developers, says Douglas. One of the reasons the utility has not put restrictions on the RFP in terms of project size, locale or price is to make it as flexible as possible. "We issued an RFP that effectively gave proponents a blank sheet of paper from which to work. We didn't confine them in any way," says Douglas.

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