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Wind power lobbies for northern exposure

Canada’s wind power industry is lobbying Ottawa to include in the next federal budget a $74-million boost for wind turbine installations in remote northern communities.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has been briefing government officials in several departments – including Natural Resources and Finance – on its proposals, which call for the money to be spent over the course of a decade.

The idea is to provide an incentive for remote communities to end their dependence on generators that use diesel fuel, an expensive and environmentally unfriendly practice.

The program would also give a boost to the small and medium-sized turbine manufacturing business in Canada, an established industry that now exports most of its products.

Boosting the domestic market through incentives would light a fire under the industry, said Sean Whittaker, policy director at CanWEA. “In 10 years, if we really strengthen our domestic market … then Canada could be a world leader in this medium-sized [turbine] category that has huge potential.”

Despite the expense and pollution of diesel generators, they are established in remote communities as the main source of electricity, so there needs to be an incentive to replace them with wind, he said. “Like any technology that is new to the landscape, it needs a push.”

Under the CanWEA plan, wind developers or utilities serving large northern communities would get an incentive payment of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by wind. More remote communities would get 15 cents a kwh. About one-third of the money would come as upfront capital grants.

In a decade this could lead to the installation of about 87 megawatts of wind power.

The incentives are needed because remote northern towns face extra hurdles to installing wind turbines, compared with southern installations, Mr. Whittaker said. It is more expensive to bring in cranes and other equipment to do the construction, special materials and lubricants are needed on turbines in cold climates, and maintenance costs are higher.

Among the half-dozen Canadian small turbine manufacturers that could supply new projects is Entegrity Wind Systems Inc. of Charlottetown.

Entegrity president Malcolm Lodge said in an interview that his firm, and other Canadian companies in the business, now sell most of their turbines to municipalities and institutions in other countries. Customers are usually large energy consumers in regions where power costs are high.

The CanWEA proposal, if implemented, “could be very good for us in opening up the remote community market,” Mr. Lodge said.

By Richard Blackwell

The Globe and Mail

29 January 2008