State sets record in power purchase -- Alberta goes 90% green

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The Alberta government will buy more than 90% of the electricity it uses in its own facilities from green sources, with half of that coming from a 75 MW wind farm under construction in the southern part of the province.

The province has reached an agreement with Calgary's Enmax Energy Corporation to buy 105,000 MWh of wind power a year for ten years beginning in 2005. It will also sign a 20 year contract with Canadian Hydro Developers, another Calgary electricity retailer, for 105,000 MWh of biomass energy. The deals far exceed the 25% target set out in a request for proposals issued late last year.

reduced costs

"Innovative thinking by our partners has allowed us to make the commitment to purchase more green power than any other province in Canada," says infrastructure minister Ty Lund, whose ministry is handling the purchases. "And, when these contracts come into effect, government's electricity costs will be reduced by about $4 million a year, based on current cost and consumption. This is a phenomenal deal for Albertans and the environment."

Enmax, an electricity retailer with about half a million customers across Alberta, is an equal partner with Vision Quest Windelectric in the construction of the C$100 million, 75 MW McBride Lake wind farm (Windpower Monthly, December 2002) and is buying all of the project's output, about 235,000 MWh a year. Enmax's Theresa Howland says the provincial government contract doubles Enmax's current wind power sales, and sets a new record for the industry. "Our half alone represents the largest green power, and wind power, purchase by a consumer in North America ever."

Economic choice

With Canada's wind power production incentive (WPPI) and the economies of scale associated with a project like McBride Lake, she says, wind power is becoming a more economic choice. "The options that are available to use renewable energy at the customer level are becoming more viable," she says. "When you see exponential growth, when things are doubling, that is really a good sign in terms of where this industry is going over the next few years."

By mid-March, 32 of McBride Lake's 114 Vestas V47 660 kW wind turbines were built and 22 were producing power. Any machines online by the end of the month qualify for an incentive payment of C$0.012/kWh under the federal government's WPPI program. Turbines installed after that receive C$0.01/kWh.

Canadian Hydro will supply the government with power from a planned C$57 million, 25 MW biomass cogeneration plant located in Grande Prairie, 484 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. Construction of the Grande Prairie EcoPower Centre, which will use wood waste from a local lumber mill to generate both electricity and steam, is expected to start in the spring and take a year to complete. The plant will generate 175,000 MWh annually. Canadian Hydro currently owns and operates 89 MW of generation, including three wind plants, nine run-of-river hydroelectric plants and one natural gas-fired plant.

The Alberta government, which was a leading opponent of Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations to 22% below 1990 levels. Efficiency retrofits will decrease those levels to 26% below 1990 levels by 2005, and buying green power, says environment minister Lorne Taylor, is a key part of its plan to drive emissions even lower.

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