Big welcome for Alberta framework -- Full wind integration

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) has removed its contentious 900 MW cap on wind energy development in the Canadian province, saying it now has a plan in place to maintain system reliability as the industry grows. Announcing the cap had gone, energy minister Mel Knight said: "Alberta is ready to integrate more wind power into the grid."

The AESO imposed the cap in April 2006 after studies showed wind energy's variability could start causing problems on the system once installed capacity went beyond the 900 MW mark. It will now be replaced by a set of market rules and operational tools that, says AESO CEO Dale McMaster, will allow the marketplace to determine what is the appropriate amount of wind generation on the system.

The new integration plan, known as the Market and Operational Framework (MOF), essentially lays out the steps system controllers will take to manage wind power variability in their day-to-day operations. It requires wind producers to forecast their output for the next day as well as two hours prior to the start of the delivery hour -- and to take the risk of production being partially or wholly constrained if the system cannot absorb all of the wind power being generated. The cost of new transmission and any ancillary services needed to balance wind power with demand will be paid by consumers.

Back to pure market

Claude Mindorff of Naturener Canada, which has about 1000 MW under development in Alberta, calls the removal of the cap fantastic news. "Ultimately what the MOF does is it looks at going back to a pure market and letting the market come forward with the wind farms that are going to be viable economically," he says. "We think letting the market run itself as far as generators connecting is a good thing. Customers are certainly lining up at the door to buy renewable energy in Alberta these days. The opportunities are there for us."

The details of how the MOF will be implemented still has to be worked out through consultation with industry, says the AESO's Warren Frost. "There is a lot of work to do to sort out all of the moving parts working in combination."

Alberta has 524 MW of installed wind capacity and about 5500 MW more in its interconnection queue. "They are at very, very different stages of development. But it is a very good indicator of the level of interest in the Alberta wind opportunity," says the Canadian Wind Energy Association's Robert Hornung. Uncertainty for investors is now removed, he adds. "This provides a framework that investors can begin to plan around."

One roadblock wind developers are still facing in Alberta, however, is access to the grid. Lack of transmission capacity is already forcing developers to put projects on hold at a time when supply is tightening in the province. But Knight says the province is ready to respond. "The transmission system must keep pace. Transmission in southern Alberta must be developed to accommodate more wind," he says. "I know the AESO, as the agency responsible for transmission planning in the province, has and continues to work to ensure projects have adequate transmission capacity to deliver wind power to consumers."

Applications for transmission upgrades in the southwest and southeast regions of the province are currently before Alberta's energy regulator. They will be enough to allow about 1200 MW of wind on the system. The AESO also planned to kick off a consultation process in October to look at additional transmission developments in the south needed to support the wind industry's growth, says McMaster.

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