This year's annual trade show by the Canadian Wind Energy Association (Canwea) provided tangible evidence of the country's expanding wind market and, in particular, host province Ontario's aggressive plans to bring new capacity online.
The 11,610-square-metre exhibition hall in Toronto accommodated 238 exhibitors, up from 203 last year and just 81 five years ago. Among the booths were the usual large and small wind turbine manufacturers, consultants, project developers and engineering firms. A push by the Ontario government to link green energy development to new job and manufacturing opportunities also brought in companies looking to scope out the opportunities. The exhibitor's list included 39 component suppliers and 44 construction companies, in addition to a variety of electrical and other equipment suppliers.
About a third of the exhibitors, 82 in total, were from Ontario, a significant jump from 46 in 2008. Not surprisingly, the biggest chunk of international exhibitors came from the US. There were 73 US companies, up from 61 last year. Also present were seven German companies, four from the UK, two from Denmark and one each from France and Belgium.
Canwea President Robert Hornung opened the conference with news that Canadian wind will have set a new record for annual installed capacity in 2009. "During a time of significant economic challenge and recession, the wind energy industry has been creating jobs and producing economic activity at a record pace," he declared. "That said, the economic crisis has had a real impact on the wind energy industry. Projects have been delayed and 2009 was less busy than we would have thought one year ago." By late September, at the time of the conference, four wind farms totalling 486 MW had come online in Ontario, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island during 2009. Total new capacity is expected to hit 790 MW by year end, narrowly beating Canada's previous record of 776 MW installed in 2007. Total installed wind energy capacity by end-2009 is forecast at 3.2 GW.
Ontario may have the most aggressive renewable energy strategy in the country, but it also has some of its most vocal and well-organised wind power opponents. "We have groups like Wind Concerns Ontario spreading misinformation and causing fear in the public. The wind industry has pretty much tried to stick to the high ground so far and I believe we are losing on the ground," developer Glen Estill said from the audience during a roundtable of industry leaders. Turning the situation around, agreed the panellists, will take some effort. "We need to be out there. We need to be educating people about what the real information is and not being afraid to enter that debate, not being afraid of rising to the questions that are there," said Kent Brown, CEO of Calgary-based Canadian Hydro Developers, a leading company in terms of wind operating capacity. "At the heart of it is change, and with change there are concerns." Meantime, Steve Snyder, CEO of major power company and wind market player TransAlta, said that the average person today receives information from eight sources, and the wind industry must figure out ways to exploit them all. Martha Wyrsch, president of Vestas Americas, pointed out that the industry's detractors are doing just that. "We're not being very effective and we're not using tools that many people are looking to today. There is Twitter and YouTube and all the other technologies that are out there," she said. "I think that we need to move to that very quickly and start to fight on the same battleground." Joyce McLean from Toronto Hydro used the utility's own experience while setting up a wind measurement device to help illustrate the extent of the problem. "We had 1300 people attend a public meeting about siting an anemometer in Lake Ontario, and many of them were agitated beyond belief. So I really think education is critical."