Breaking out of the box

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Just as wind energy in Canada was breaking out of one niche, it seemed destined to fall into another. First it was viewed as no more than an experimental technology in its infancy. Then it was in danger of being categorised as a technology that just exists to aid the country in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kyoto has been, and will continue to be, a positive driver for wind in Canada, but as an argument for industry growth it has its limitations: last year, bureaucrats explained that much-needed changes to the federal wind power production incentive were shelved because the government first wanted to "roll out" other parts of its climate change strategy. Then they said emission reduction resulting from wind might be more expensive than other options. The role of wind in rural economic development and job creation, its value as a hedge against fuel price risk, and its ability to substantially contribute to electricity supply as a competitive generation source seemed largely to have been shunted aside.

Recently, however, a shift in attitude is visible. The North American blackout in August and the weaknesses it exposed in the electricity infrastructure, emerging supply concerns, an ageing generation portfolio and an increasingly volatile natural gas market are forcing provincial and federal governments to think more strategically about energy and energy policy. And many are thinking about wind.

Ontario is shopping for 300 MW of renewables to help fill short-term supply gaps (page 37). In New Brunswick, the utility is asking for wind after it found that a series of mild winters masked rising demand and left it facing a generation shortfall. In Quebec, projected power shortages won quick government approval for a gas-fired plant, only for public opposition to cause a back-track on the decision; many of the opponents pointed to wind as a viable and cleaner alternative. Prince Edward Island has discovered it is cheaper to produce wind power than to import electricity.

The task facing the Canadian wind lobby is to capitalise on the shift: to convince governments to think about wind outside what CanWEA's Robert Hornung calls the "climate change box" and see investments in its growth as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. The idea is starting to catch on. A year ago the Royal Bank of Canada's Patrick Holland said his organisation sees wind as an "antidote to spark spread economics." If the argument can move a monolith like the Royal Bank, surely it is time that governments listened.

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