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Bidding to supply firm capacity in Canada

A British Columbia wind power developer has put up C$5000 to participate in a call for tenders it does not really expect to win, but which it hopes will help clarify some questions about how the technology fits into an electricity system that so far does not have any wind generation in its mix. "Really, our deposit money allows us to play the game," says the company.

A Canadian wind developer is rising to the challenge of persuading BC Hydro that a large wind plant can provide at least some of the firm power supply the utility is seeking

for Vancouver Island

A British Columbia wind power developer has put up C$5000 to participate in a call for tenders it does not really expect to win, but which it hopes will help clarify some questions about how the technology fits into an electricity system that so far does not have any wind generation in its mix. "Really, our deposit money allows us to play the game," says Tony Duggleby, chief operating officer of Vancouver-based Sea Breeze Power Corporation.

BC Hydro issued a call in October for 150-300 MW of new "dependable capacity" on Vancouver Island, after the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) denied the utility's application for approval of its proposed 265 MW Duke Point gas fired power plant. In its decision, the BCUC said it was not convinced Duke Point was the most cost effective option for meeting the island's growing need for electricity and urged BC Hydro to seek bids from the private sector.

Twenty-three companies have registered to participate in the bidding, but Sea Breeze is the only one proposing to use wind, an intermittent resource, as its generation source. "We think we can supply capacity," says Duggleby. One of the questions Sea Breeze is hoping to get answered is whether BC Hydro thinks the same. "BC Hydro at this point does not give a capacity rating to wind," Duggleby says.

But in some other markets in North America, that is not the case. In 2003, he points out, PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organisation covering all or parts of eight states in the eastern US, changed its rules to give turbines a capacity value equal to 20% of their nameplate rating. If the utility adopts PJM's standard, says Duggleby, the 200 MW wind plant Sea Breeze is hoping to propose would equate to 40 MW of capacity. "There are different ways to look at it and what we want to define is what BC Hydro's attitude is about this."

A look at the 69-page call for tenders and BC Hydro's web site shows that the challenge for wind does not end there. The utility makes it clear that power producers will not be able to sell any excess energy to third parties. The provision favours producers who can "turn their generator on and off at will" and is one Sea Breeze would like to see changed, says Duggleby. "Obviously, with a 200 MW wind plant, we are going to produce a whole lot more than 40 MW a lot of the time. So, we have to get a ruling from them." The utility has invited registered bidders to comment on the tender document before it goes to the BCUC for final approval. Bidders will then go through a pre-qualification process to ensure their projects meet BC Hydro's criteria before submitting tenders.

Once the final bids are in, projects that still qualify will undergo a development risk assessment and those that pass will be assembled into portfolios to determine the most cost effective source of supply.

BC Hydro says it does not want to comment on questions related to wind's capacity value and excess energy at this stage of the tender process.

Battery link

Sea Breeze is proposing a number of ways, beyond wind-only, to provide the capacity BC Hydro wants. "We want to find out what the parameters are," says Duggleby, before the company decides whether to proceed through the rest of the tender process and what its final project proposal will look like. One scenario involves pairing wind generation with vanadium redox battery storage, which would effectively provide some ability to supply firm capacity from wind. "All of a sudden you can load shift by 12 hours, which means that you can hit peak with the battery," he explains. "Our calculations are that in a 100 MW wind plant, if we put in 20 MW of battery that raises our capacity factor to around 60%."

In a province where 90% of electricity is produced through hydroelectric generation there is also potential, says Duggleby, to take advantage of the close relationship between wind and hydro. 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. In essence, the reservoir becomes the battery.

"There is one other proponent in the call for tenders that has a storage-type hydro project and they have talked to us about partnering up," says Duggleby. BC Hydro also has hydro dams and reservoirs on Vancouver Island.

All of the options centre on the company's planned Knob Hill Wind Farm, to be located on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The 450 MW project, currently undergoing an environmental assessment by the province, will be built in stages, says Duggleby.

BC Hydro plans to announce results of the call for tenders by August 31. Winning projects must be on line by May 2007. Electricity demand on Vancouver Island is growing by 30-40 MW a year and some of the ageing submarine cables that supply the bulk of the island's power needs from BC's mainland are due to be retired by 2007.

Most of the projects proposed by the 23 registered bidders use natural gas as a fuel source, but hydro, biomass, coal and synthetic gas projects are also on the list.

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