The Fresh Dirt on W. Canada’s Wind Energy Fortunes

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Blog originally posted April 2014 on Terra1 Renewables by Randolph Seibold.

The reality is hard to paint in warm colours; If the governments of Alberta and BC don’t get serious about drafting policies that offer security for new renewable energy, specifically wind power construction, this industry in the short and medium term may fade away here.

About 150 guests were in attendance at the CanWEA Western Forum this year. They included the usual diverse mix, from wind data modelers, to developers, the oil and gas sector, government and First Nations.  The agenda centered around topics like government policy (or lack thereof), building the “social license”, the co-development of wind with natural gas power, if and when new electricity demand in BC would materialize, and innovation strategies. The agenda was quite similar to last year’s event in Vancouver, however it was easy to perceive a marked increase in anxiety and impatience in the room.  As provinces that have touted themselves as “energy super-power” and “green energy super-power”, respectively, AB and BC are currently poorly equipped with the political will or policy tools to enable the growth of the wind power industry in this part of Canada.

It’s not all bad news. Certain conditions in each province do help create favorable conditions for the basic opportunity to develop more wind power resources. Most notably in Alberta, where a major environmental image problem, and the scheduled closure of nearly 5,000 megawatts of thermal coal power over the next 20 years, should in theory provide a huge incentive for the province to express a strong desire for a “greener grid” going forward.  Bold moves, such as developing a market-based clean electricity standard, and increasing the carbon price in the SGER (Specified Gas Emitter’s Regulation), would result in a rush of industry and investor confidence in new wind and other renewable power, as well as take a big step towards repairing the environmentally responsible image that Alberta has never had to begin with.  Right now, however, the most concrete signal coming from Edmonton and the energy regulator is that natural gas will form the lion’s share of new generation, with “dialogue”, and “frameworks” promised for new renewable energy guidance.

In BC, one of the best scenarios for cost-effectively and incrementally twinning new wind power with established large hydro continues to await that “Aha!” moment from Victoria.  The venerable crown corporation BC Hydro has recently released its IRP (Integrated Resource Plan) in November 2013, and the inclusion of a renewable energy procurement strategy was all but missing-in-action.  Opportunities for IPP participation have been eroded, with DSM (Demand-side Management) and the construction of the new and controversial Site C mega dam taking central roles. Natural gas-fired power is also back on the table as a “clean energy” option to help meet hoped-for load growth from new LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) plants.  It is still far from certain that these plants will ever be built, as their entire business case hinges on sustained demand from Asia for North American natural gas. As a slap in the face to BC’s First Nations, the crown corp’s rural electrification for remote off-grid communities initiative was axed, as well. About 70 FNs had just recently begun the process of launching a First Nations Working Group on Renewable Energy, to advance the case for their direct participation, and to lobby support for the industry in general.

There will likely be some wind construction, in both provinces, in 2014/2015. These are contracts already fully awarded, and they will provide much-needed on-the-ground momentum, to help pull the industry through to that hoped-for day when the business reality of low cost, sustainable and easily deployed wind power in the Western Canadian power mix becomes a significant source of electricity and economic growth in the governments’ energy paradigm.

Public support has never been more vital. One important way YOU can help? Become a Friend of Wind. Contact your elected political reps and demand a better deal for new wind development. And vote for candidates that show they understand the importance of fighting climate change while diversifying our economies with affordable, low carbon energy sources like Wind Power.

Check out some of Randolph’s other blogs, including: