Canada

Canada

Making the most of high pool prices -- Wind in demand

Canada's largest investor-owned power producer, TransAlta Corporation, has invested another C$5 million in Vision Quest Windelectric, money that will help finance the wind energy developer's plans to more than triple its installed capacity over the next two years. The investment is the second TransAlta has made in Vision Quest. Meanwhile, Vision Quest has partnered with Calgary Transit and Enmax., the city's electric utility, in a program that will soon see Calgary commuter's ride the world's first wind powered public transit system since the days of sail. Vision Quest plans on announcing other investors and customers later this year.

Calgary power company TransAlta Corporation has invested another C$5 million in Vision Quest Windelectric, money that will help finance the wind energy developer's plans to more than triple its installed capacity over the next two years. "Vision Quest is growing fast and we want to help them grow," says Mike Kelly, TransAlta's director of sustainable development. Alberta's electricity market, where spot prices averaged C$133/MWh in 2000 and remain high, is ripe for wind energy development, says Kelly. "The prices are high. We don't know how long they are going to stay that way. But it's going to be awhile before a lot of base load generation is going to be on stream here. We think wind power looks good under these market conditions."

The investment is the second TransAlta, Canada's largest investor-owned power producer, has made in Vision Quest. In August it bought a C$5 million minority stake in the company. Vision Quest, also based in Calgary, recently received a development permit from southwestern Alberta's Municipal District of Pincher Creek to add 44 new Vestas V47 wind turbines to the 13 MW of wind capacity it already owns in the province (Windpower Monthly, February 2001). The new turbines, to be installed over the next two years, will boost the company's installed capacity to 42 MW.

In addition to investing in Vision Quest, TransAlta will become one of the wind developer's customers. Four of the new 660 kW turbines, to be installed by July 1, will supply TransAlta with about 8000 MWh of wind power each year to meet the electricity needs of its corporate headquarters. The ten year deal, which carries a premium price tag, allows TransAlta not only show its commitment to wind power, says Kelly, but demonstrate its viability as a generation source. "We have a lot of investments in offsets and in other areas related to the environment, and we just thought this was the right thing to do."

Ride the wind

Meanwhile, Vision Quest has partnered with Calgary Transit and Enmax, the city's electric utility, in a program that will soon see Calgary commuters ride the wind. The city's transit authority will purchase 21,000 MWh of wind generated electricity a year, the output of ten of Vision Quest's planned new 660 kW wind turbines, to power its light rail transit system. The trains are expected to be running on wind power by September.

"This is a significant step towards reducing the environmental impact of transportation and will make Calgary's C-Train the world's first wind powered public transit system since the days of sail," says Dave Colquhoun, Calgary Transit's planning manager.

Vision Quest came up with the idea more than a year ago and took it to the major players, says the company's executive director, Jason Edworthy. "Everybody agreed it was a great idea, but there was this worry about what it would cost. Then the market changed. And all of a sudden when you can get a long term contract for wind power with known fuel costs, no risk of price changes, everything starts to look a lot different."

At the same time, the city created a climate change office to mandate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for each department. Calgary Transit was looking at switching to hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses, but discovered that with wind energy it could get twice the emissions reductions at a fraction of the cost. "They were able to suddenly demonstrate that this could make a lot of sense."

Cheaper than fuel cells

Although Edworthy won't reveal the price Calgary Transit will pay for wind power, he did say that whenever Alberta's power pool price is higher than the contract price, the difference flows through to the transit authority. With electricity trading in the C$110/MWh to C$120/MWh range, the city will see some financial benefits. "As long as the pool price stays high, and there's a pretty good chance of that in the near future, it's lucrative," says Edworthy. "Frankly, I think they will do very well."

Edworthy says Vision Quest has lined up other investors and customers for its 44 turbine expansion, but is not ready to make any announcements right now. "We'll be announcing the other customers through the year, when they're ready, when the time is right."

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