Aggressive targets for wind in Quebec -- Gas out of favour

Canada's wind industry is urging a parliamentary commission examining Quebec's energy future to target 6000 MW of wind power over the next decade, a prospect that may have received a boost when Hydro-Quebec's president told the same committee the utility will not meet growing demand by generating electricity using natural gas.

xInstead, says Andre Caille, the government-owned monopoly utility will focus on bringing new hydroelectric and wind power on line. "There are no, absolutely no, thermal projects at Hydro-Quebec," he says. "Hydro-Quebec Production is not interested in any way in any type of combined-cycle generation."

xAt the same time, however, gas generation has not been completely excluded from Quebec's future. Calgary-based TransCanada Energy is constructing a 550 MW gas-fired cogeneration plant at Bécancour, while Hydro-Quebec's distribution arm is entertaining bids for another 350 MW of cogeneration.

xCaille's comments came after public protests forced the province to suspend, and then finally cancel, Hydro-Quebec's plans to build an 840 MW gas fired power plant near Montreal. The debate also prompted the government to launch the parliamentary commission, whose work is expected to lead to the tabling of a new energy strategy in Quebec's National Assembly this spring.

xxTime is right

xIn a 35-page brief to the commission, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) recommends that wind supply a minimum of 7.5% of Quebec's electricity by 2012 and 10% by 2015. "The government is about to come up with a revamped energy policy, so that is going to have impacts over the next ten to twenty years," says Guy Painchaud, head of a Montreal-based consulting firm, GPCo, and a former CanWEA president. "In those circumstances, the time is right to start thinking about wind in a big way"

xThe proposed targets will require 4500 MW of wind capacity by 2012 and 6000 MW by 2015. The province already has 113 MW operating and another 99 MW under construction. In 2004, Hydro-Quebec contracted for the output of nine projects totalling 1190 MW and this year plans to issue a request for proposals for 1000 MW more. CanWEA recommends calls for 1000 MW not just this year, but also in 2006 and 2007, followed by 600 MW in 2008 and 500 MW a year after that.

xPainchaud says the industry also wants the government to open up the entire province to wind development, rather than restrict projects to specific regions, such as the economically depressed Gaspé Peninsula. Hydro Quebec estimates it will need to spend C$430 million upgrading its transmission system to integrate and connect the 1000 MW of projects picked for development on the peninsula. "The goal is to make wind cheaper by letting producers develop the best sites," explains Painchaud, "Cheaper in the sense that there are areas where the grid could accommodate wind better."

xxHydro risk

xQuebec currently relies on hydroelectric facilities to produce 96.7% of its electricity, a somewhat risky portfolio because of the "random nature" of precipitation, acknowledges a government discussion paper on the challenges of maintaining reliable electricity supplies. Wind can help mitigate that risk by helping the province manage its hydro resources much more effectively, says CanWEA. At times of higher wind output, Hydro-Quebec can store more water in its reservoirs. "Another point we made is that wind is more predictable than hydro. Year to year, variations are going to be less for wind than for hydro," says Painchaud.

xPrice is also an issue in a province that has some of the lowest electricity rates in North America. Unlike thermal generation, says CanWEA, wind has no fuel cost and is immune to future charges related to air pollution and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

xPromoting economic development while balancing it with sustainability is another important concern, says the government's discussion paper. CanWEA's plan, says Painchaud, will "facilitate the vertical integration of the industry in Quebec, so we would get more manufacturing and construction jobs here." Every 1000 MW of wind installed, CanWEA says, will stimulate $1.5 billion in investment and create 15,650 person-years of employment over 25 years.

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