Canada's BC Hydro utility has pulled out of the Rumble Ridge wind power demonstration project on Vancouver Island, saying private sector developers appear ready to compete on a commercial basis. "We had three wind projects bid into our last call for green power proposals and we don't need to be investing in a demo project and basically subsidising its output when we have competitive people willing to step up to the plate," says BC Hydro's Bev Van Ruyven.
The government-owned utility and its joint venture partner, Montreal-based Axor Group, had planned to build a 3-4 MW project, then scale it up to a total capacity of 25-40 MW if the site proved technically and economically feasible. Axor now has the option of going ahead with the project on its own by responding to BC Hydro's request for proposals (RFP). "I think they have a pretty good idea what our competitive RFP process is, and if they can make the economics work on it then I hope they do bid it in," says Van Ruyven. Axor is not yet revealing its hand.
BC Hydro's mandate has undergone significant changes since it announced the Rumble Ridge demonstration project. Late last year, the provincial government released a new energy policy which limits the utility's role in developing future electricity supply to upgrading its existing generation facilities.
Nonetheless, it plans to continue its wind monitoring program, which began in 2000 and currently has 15 data collection masts at nine locations throughout the province. All the wind data will be made available to private developers to help get their projects "up and running faster," says Van Ruyven. "They already have enough hurdles and barriers with permitting and environmental requirements. I don't want to make it any harder for them. I want to make it easier."
Help to industry
BC Hydro had announced plans to make the Rumble Ridge site the centre of a collaborative research project on turbine icing and ice prevention, committing C$90,000 to turbine icing and another C$20,000 to instrument icing and inviting interested wind developers, turbine operators and utilities from across North America to participate. That research could still go ahead if the project proceeds. "Any money up front to study or monitor or get data that helps producers get their projects to market faster, I'd be willing to look at," says Van Ruyven.
Rumble Ridge is located on the east side of Quatsino Sound on northwest Vancouver Island, exposed to storm-driven winter winds off the Pacific Ocean and at an elevation so that it is often enveloped in clouds. During the winter, what Glenn Erho, the utility's manager of resource assessment, describes as "some pretty significant icing" contributed to the failure of a monitoring tower at the site and led to the loss of a couple of months of wind data.
Since then, with some help from other players in the wind industry, both Canadian and American, BC Hydro has learned a lot about how to collect wind data in some extreme icing conditions, he says. But information about how to actually operate a wind turbine in those circumstances is lacking. "It is pretty obvious that there isn't a lot of experience out there, even among the turbine manufacturers, on how to deal with it."
Concerns about icing in BC are not limited to the Rumble Ridge site. The utility has in the past had ice affect the gathering of wind data at a variety of locations in the province. "How extreme or how big of a problem those icing conditions might be, and whether or not that icing we're experiencing with our wind sensors is even going to be a problem with a utility scale turbine, we don't have answers to that," says Erho.
One utility that has extensive experience with icing and turbine operation is Yukon Energy Corporation, which has been experimenting with the commercialisation of wind power in the territory's sub-Arctic climate since 1993. John Maissan, who heads a research effort focussed on the problem of severe rime ice build-up, plans to participate if the BC Hydro proposal goes ahead.
He says he gets lots of calls from engineering firms and turbine manufacturers interested in learning more about the utility's experiences, evidence that icing is not just a Yukon issue. "From what I hear it can be problem coast to coast and everywhere in between."
The shared interest the two utilities have in icing is already resulting in some shared effort. Yukon Energy is hosting the Yukon International Wind Energy Conference in Whitehorse next month which will focus on cold climate challenges and opportunities for the industry. BC Hydro, says the utility's Cynthia Dyson, has come on board to help sponsor and organise the event.
Icing is also the focus of research elsewhere in Canada. Tim Weis, a wind energy PhD candidate at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, recently released the results of a study showing that the use of a low surface-energy coating on wind turbine blades does not help decrease ice's ability to adhere.
"If you have an icing problem, there isn't a magic surface that is going get rid of your ice," says Weis. Adding heat improves the situation, he says, but not enough because turbine rotation speeds are too low to create enough force to shed the build up of ice. He recommends that future research focuses on detecting ice and understanding the best time to de-ice the turbines.