NLH's Don Barrett says the RFP has generated "a lot of interest" among wind companies, which had until January 31 to respond. The winning proposal will be selected March 14, and the feasibility study is due 15 months from that date. NLH has had an interest in wind power since the 1960s when it experimented, unsuccessfully, with the installation of a vertical-axis turbine, adds Barrett. "We've been watching this technology for a number of years, and there have been significant strides made," he says. That, and the growth of the industry worldwide, convinced the utility "it might be appropriate at this time to go ahead."
Newfoundland, says Barrett, "is either famous or infamous, depending on your point of view" for its strong winds, particularly on the coast. Conditions on the coast, however, also provide challenges for wind technology. Periods of freezing rain can produce ice accumulations in excess of five centimetres, while the combination of prevailing onshore winds and relatively damp air results in heavy salt deposition. This first project, says Barrett, will help the utility determine whether developing the wind resource is a practical option.
Right now, about 75% of Newfoundland's electricity comes from hydro and the rest from thermal generation. Hydroelectric power is sufficient to meet the province's power needs during the summer, but in the winter, when demand spikes "quite significantly" because of the large proportion of homes heated by electricity, NLH has to bring its 490 MW heavy oil fired generator on-line. Winter is also the time, however, when wind speeds are greatest and most oil can be saved. "Whether or not wind power can make a significant difference, only time will tell," says Barrett.
The project will also provide information and experience to assist NLH in evaluating the potential of wind power for Newfoundland's remote communities. In addition to two interconnected grid systems, one on the island of Newfoundland and another on Labrador, NLH operates 25 isolated rural generation and distribution systems in the province.