Final province to wake up to wind -- Manitoba gets on board

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The only Canadian province not to have shown an interest in wind power has finally taken the plunge with the announcement that Manitoba Hydro has launched a C$320,000 study to evaluate its wind resource. The government owned monopoly utility has hired Montreal's Helimax Energy to monitor seven sites for a full year. Most are expected to be in the southwest corner of Manitoba where it blows most, says the utility's Glenn Schneider.

The region is also directly north of North Dakota, which has more wind power potential than any other US state. The utility expects Manitoba's wind resource may be a natural extension of its southern neighbour's. "We are expecting that some of the sites will be considered to be highly productive," says Schneider.

It is too early to say what role wind might play in Manitoba's electric system, which is dominated by low-cost hydro power. "In the short term, we recognise that the technology has been changing and improving, that the prices are dropping and that it's a technology we need to learn more about and keep on top of. That's why we've gone down this route."

Right now, the utility operates 14 hydro generating stations with a combined capacity of nearly 5000 MW and is interested, says Schneider, in exploring how wind and hydro technologies can work together. Research conducted by Hydro-Quebec has shown that the seasonal distribution of wind energy not only closely matches electricity demand in Canada, but also complements water inflows, allowing utilities to save more water in their reservoirs.

Adding export value

Manitoba Hydro also sees potential to add value to its power exports with wind power, says Schneider. In 2000-01, 42% of Manitoba Hydro's power sales were to customers outside the province over interconnections linking it to Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the United States. "I think an attractive element of our energy is that certainly it is price competitive, but it is also a renewable resource," says Schneider. "I think people look at it positively when you are in an export situation. I think a wind component would only add to that."

Private wind developers are also starting to take a serious look at the prairie province's potential. British Columbia's Sequoia Energy, an affiliate of German developer Windkraft Kontor, and an industry newcomer, erected three monitoring towers at two sites in southern Manitoba in November and plans to monitor the resource for at least a year.

The company, says managing director Bob Spensley, is talking with Manitoba Hydro about a possible power purchase arrangement. He says the utility's interest in wind has grown over the last year, although the fact that the province has the lowest electricity rates in North America presents a challenge. "It comes down to a question of economics. We still haven't overcome some of those challenges. How can we build an economic model that says this is feasible in this province, where the prices are so low? We're still working on it," he says. "Our story is that wind complements hydro. They are made for each other. We're trying to talk to them more in the coming months. Hopefully we'll be one of the first companies to develop in the province."

Sequoia is also monitoring the wind at a site near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta, but right now Manitoba is its focus. It is partnering on the Manitoba projects with California's Global Renewable Energy Partners, a subsidiary of Danish turbine manufacturer NEG Micon. Global has a wealth of experience that can benefit his company, says Spensley. "We brought them on to ensure these first projects are bang-up jobs."

Shell in Canada

Shell Canada has also begun wind monitoring in Manitoba, but the company's Jan Rowley says the Calgary-based oil producer does not want to provide details of its activities until it is ready to move forward on a project. "We are working in Manitoba, but we're also looking on the east coast and generally across the prairies," she says. "Our aspiration is to be a wind power developer, owner and operator, and at this point I would liken it to the exploration phase in the oil and gas industry, in that we are in various parts of the country erecting met towers and gathering data, and at the same time looking to see if we can put any commercial deals together."

Rowley points out that internationally, Shell is active in the development of a number of renewable technologies, but says that in Canada its focus is on wind. "We think wind holds the most promise, so that is what we're pursuing."

Manitoba's energy minister, Tim Sale, says the province is committed to the development of clean energy sources. "Over the years, wind power has become an increasingly attractive source of energy and by examining new sources of energy, Manitoba will be better positioned to build upon the province's energy advantage," he says.

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