New advisory board calls public debate

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With hopes of enhancing a key 250 MW set-aside quota for wind energy in Quebec, the government's new Energy Board, La Regie de l'energie, has called a public hearing on the matter. The set-aside was announced by the Quebec energy ministry and publicly owned utility Hydro Quebec in 1996, yet a request for proposals has still not been issued (Windpower Monthly, July 1997).

"Hydro Quebec needs clear political direction, and it will have to accept the board's order," says Pierre Vincent of the board. "As with any political decision, the more we talk about it, the more it gains weight. That's why it's important to have the hearing with as many participants as possible."

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is taking the opportunity to recommend doubling the wind quota, says the organisation's Jean-Louis Chaumel. The current target calls for 25 MW of new wind capacity for each of the ten years beginning in 2002; CanWEA hopes to up the ante to 50 MW nameplate capacity a year supplied mostly from the private sector, starting from the year 2000.

Some of the key points for the hearing, scheduled for May 19-22, include set-aside characteristics, economic spin-offs to stimulate manufacturing, regional and environmental impacts and, notably, power purchase pricing. "Hydro Quebec is under pressure from Guy Chevrette [Quebec's minister of energy and natural resources] to develop more small power projects," says Vincent. "However, Hydro Quebec doesn't want to pay the price." He explains the utility currently pays C$0.03/kWh for all forms of energy, limiting the field to its own hydro generated production since few other projects in Quebec can produce electricity cheaper. "That's what we have to resolve in the energy equation. We will hear the parties and decide how much Hydro Quebec should buy and how much they should pay for it so that the wind power industry can develop in Quebec."

While Hydro Quebec is not always viewed as being enthusiastic about wind power, representative Renee Arsenault says the utility is "ready and waiting to implement the board's directives on the size, timing and power purchase prices of the set-aside, and the percentage of private sector power it will contain."

Job potential

In the light of Hydro Quebec's promotion of its hydro power as a renewable and sustainable energy source with low greenhouse gas emissions, much of the wind debate has begun to form around its social and economic -- as opposed to strictly environmental -- factors, such as job creation. Vincent stresses that the long term objective of the set-aside process is to grow a wind power component manufacturing industry in Quebec, and then to develop export markets for this industry. "We've really got an economic development mandate here. It's not strictly an energy supply issue, and it's justifiable for Hydro Quebec to pay more for wind energy," he says.

The announcement on March 9 of a new hydroelectric megaproject in Quebec and Newfoundland has added new fuel to the pricing fire. The provinces have jointly declared their intention to develop 3200 MW of hydroelectric capacity on the upper and lower Churchill River in Labrador, valued at $10 billion over the next ten years. If the project goes ahead it is predicted to saturate the power grids of Quebec and the rest of eastern Canada by year 2008, making wind power unnecessary. In addition, Hydro Quebec projects future electricity costs will sink to C$0.025/kWh. One Canadian environmental group, Energy Probe, attacks this claim, suggesting the utility will bury C$3 billion in construction costs into its electricity rates.

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