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Studying high wind penetration -- Nova Scotia lays groundwork

Nova Scotia can meet its renewable energy targets, but there are some challenges in reaching its goal of getting 10% of its electricity supply from new renewable sources in the next five years, says a recent study looking at the possible impacts of integrating large scale wind power into the province's electricity system. "Right now, Nova Scotia's electricity system has limited interconnection with neighbouring provinces and limited quick-response ability. This gives Nova Scotia less flexibility to deal with large amounts of wind energy," says Robert Griesbach of Hatch, the consultant hired to lead the study.

Last year, the Nova Scotia government passed legislation requiring that by 2010, 5% of the province's electricity be supplied by renewable sources installed after 2001. By 2013, this rises to 10%. Wind is expected to make up most of the increase, says the study.

By 2010, the province's installed wind capacity is expected to grow from about 60 MW today to 311 MW "without significant concerns" for system operation. By 2013, the study estimates, there will be 581 MW of wind supply. At that point, it says, the system operator will need to use a variety of management techniques to maintain stability and reliability, including importing electricity, use of back-up power sources, and potential curtailments of wind output. "Possible transmission upgrades and new operational demands may increase costs," it says.

Wind dependent

Energy Minister Richard Hurlburt, whose department ordered the study, says moving away from fossil fuel generated electricity to protect the environment is a priority. Right now, about 90% of Nova Scotia's electricity comes from coal, petroleum coke, oil and natural gas. The power system accounts for more than 40% of all provincial greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key sector to target in the province's plan to reduce emissions to at least 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. "This study gives us confidence that with appropriate management techniques, wind can help meet most of our 2013 renewable electricity targets," says Hurlburt.

Nova Scotia Power, the province's monopoly utility, has expressed doubts about the 2013 target in the past, suggesting it "may not be technically achievable." While Mike Sampson, the utility's system operator, says the Hatch analysis shows Nova Scotia Power can effectively manage the wind farms coming onto the system by 2010, he is more cautious about the addition that will follow. "Looking out to 2013, Nova Scotia Power is adding roughly 580 MW of variable wind power on an electrical system that will only total around 2500 MW. That is a lot of wind energy and its full implications won't be clear without more study and more operating experience."

The study also looks beyond 2013, assessing the impact of 781 MW and 981 MW of wind, equivalent to 18% and 24% of total electricity supply respectively. It concludes that "system stability and costs will depend greatly on how the system evolves in the next several years, particularly Nova Scotia's interconnections to neighbouring regions." Integrating wind at those penetration levels could require hundreds of million of dollars in transmission upgrades, it adds. Any added cost could be offset by factors like rising fossil fuel prices and possible carbon levies, the study says.

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