The Stelmach government foresees nearly doubling the amount of wind-power generation allowed in Alberta, says Energy Minister Mel Knight, even as the province remains the only jurisdiction in Canada to cap the production of wind energy.
Industry groups are demanding the province go further than raising the amount of production permitted and remove the cap.
Alberta’s Electric System Operator introduced in 2006 a limit of 900 megawatts of wind-energy generation because it was uncertain whether wind conditions and patterns could be forecast properly – something that is needed to produce a reliable stream of power.
The decision enraged wind-energy producers, who have thousands of megawatts in the queue, and made Alberta the only jurisdiction in the country to impose such a cap.
Knight, however, said the early returns of a continuing year-long study on forecasting wind suggest the province will ratchet up the 900-MW threshold to an expected 1,500 MW – possibly more.
“There is every possibility that it could move to, in the interim, someplace around 1,500 MW,” Knight said in an interview. “As we move along and Alberta’s system becomes more robust, and we’re able to integrate more wind, I can see it moving beyond that.”
An average wind-generating facility with several dozen turbines might produce a few hundred megawatts, he said, so increasing the cap to 1,500 MW could produce between six and 10 new wind farms.
That could be big news for southern Alberta wind-energy producers, with more than a dozen projects in the queue.
But Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said his group has opposed the cap, so increasing it will soon leave them in the same position they’re facing today.
A recent report from the electric system operator indicates conditions could be ripe to remove the cap on windpower generation, he noted, wondering why the minister is looking at increasing the threshold.
“Replacing it with a higher cap is not a preferred option,” Hornung said. “A cap sends a signal that a door is closed, and for investors in the industry, that sends a negative signal.”
There are well over 3,000 MW of wind-energy projects being “actively pursued” in Alberta, he said, adding that most of them are located in southern Alberta.
There are about 10 wind-power projects on line in Alberta capable of producing about 500 MW of electricity, according to AESO data, so there’s still room to add additional load to the system before it reaches the 900 MW limit.
Yet, wind power isn’t necessarily winning everyone over.
An American scientist contends in a new paper in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology that renewable energy is anything but green.
Rather, wind and solar farms will harm the environment more than they will help it, suggests Jesse Ausubel, director of the human environment program at New York’s Rockefeller University, insisting nuclear energy is greener than other forms of renewable energies.
For example, he writes that a line of wind turbines running across the Rocky Mountains from Vancouver to Calgary – a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometres – would produce the same amount of power as one nuclear power plant.
“All the renewables are extremely invasive of nature,” Ausubel said.
By Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald; CanWest News Service
30 July 2007
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