Lack of government interest kills project
The Alberta government has squandered an opportunity for a major Canadian wind development at Pincher Creek which had won considerable popular support. Mindful of the role played by fossil fuels in the province's economy and bowing to strong anti-wind pressure from Alberta's largely coal-dependent generating utilities, the government has chosen not to legislate for a market in which wind power could have been sold to consumers.
As a result, York WindPower Corporation, a Montreal developer of wind installations, and Enercon GmbH, a German manufacturer of wind turbines, have abandoned their plans for a 250 MW wind farm and major turbine manufacturing centre near Pincher Creek. Instead, they have decided to put the $5.5 billion project, and its 2500 direct and in-direct jobs, into Mexico, where Enercon has already planned a small turbine factory. "In the not too distant future, when Canada and Alberta are desperate for green energy, wind turbines that say Made in Mexico will be arriving -- they could have said Made in Canada," says a bitter Dave Ward of York WindPower. The next Earth Summit, in Kyoto, Japan, in December, is expected to issue mandated emission reduction targets, forcing the introduction of a carbon tax in Canada.
York and Enercon gave up trying to put their wind project into Alberta when it became evident after the provincial election in March that government officials, including Premier Ralph Klein and the new energy minister, Steve West, were unwilling to consider supporting even a scaled-down version. "We did everything we possibly could to make the project more attractive -- we reduced its size, which reduced the cost, but we got absolutely nowhere in our efforts," Ward says. Other members of the Canadian wind energy business say, however, that if the project had been a deal less grandiose from the outset it would have had much greater chance of success.
Ward stresses that the development group was not requesting subsidies, only an energy policy which recognised the full social costs of power generation in the price of electricity.
The prospects for the York/Enercon project looked fairly healthy last summer when Klein struck a special premier's task force to study York's plan to develop 25 MW a year over ten years at a cost of about $1.5 billion. This was to be accompanied by a production facility for Enercon turbines at Pincher Creek. But the task force met only a handful of times, invariably without a full complement of members, and ultimately reneged on promises to meet with wind energy proponents, including Ward and Johnson.
In November, it appeared the upstream oil and gas business in Alberta might align itself with the wind proponents in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions under Canada's voluntary climate change program. But this avenue yielded little progress, and by the time Albertans went to the polls in March, the project proponents had pretty much run out of patience. Still, they waited until after the election and the installation of a new energy minister before reluctantly pulling the plug and launching their search for a new project home.
A federal joke
Not even Calgary's winning bid to supply green energy to federal facilities in Alberta (Windpower Monthly, May 1997) offers much of a life-line to wind proponents, Ward says. The programme will deliver only 13, 100 MWh blocks of green power a year, from an as-yet unknown combination of solar, biomass, wind or small hydro sources. "That's a joke," says Ward. "I have a single wind turbine that will deliver 2500 MWh, so we're talking maybe four or five turbines, if all of the power comes from the wind -- it wouldn't make any difference to us."
Ward's bitterness is shared by Wind Power Inc President Dale Johnson, who has already been forced to lay off one full-time employee and three part-timers and reduce the status of two other full-time workers to part-time. "The government in this province has a major hate on for the wind industry," Johnson says. That fact, he now says, should have been evident in 1994 when former energy minister Pat Black cut the legs from under the province's Small Power Research & Development Program (SPRD), curtailing new initiatives at 98 MW, even though the programme originally set aside access to Alberta's power grid for 125 MW of small power development.
Dale Lunan is editor of Energy Analects, the voice of the western Canadian fossil fuel industry