Canada accelerates its wind power as U.S. industry recovers

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 3, 2014

Where the U.S. wind power industry has struggled to regain its footing after 21 months of slow growth and political wrangling over tax credits, developers in neighboring Canada are aggressively taking up the slack, with an expected 4,500 megawatts of new wind power expected to come online by 2017.

That follows a record 1,600 MW of wind energy added to Canada’s electricity grid last year, compared with just under 1,100 MW in the United States. This despite the fact that the U.S. electricity market is nearly seven times larger than Canada’s based on 2013 consumption figures reported to Enerdata, a global consulting firm.

“Wind energy will see strong and steady growth across Canada through 2016,” Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, told industry officials gathered this week in Montreal for CanWEA’s 30th annual conference.

“Beyond that date, we are confident that wind energy will continue to have an important role to play in meeting future electricity supply needs in all of Canada’s electricity markets,” Hornung added, “and many provinces are now working to develop and implement the policies that will guide future investment in the sector.”

The decision to host CanWEA’s annual meeting in Quebec was not coincidental. The province has seen $10 billion in wind energy investment over the past decade and today has roughly 2,400 MW of wind power capacity, according to the organization.

Only Ontario currently produces more energy from wind, with 2,855 MW of capacity. Nationwide, Canada produces 8,517 MW of wind power, or roughly 1 percent of the country’s total generation, according to figures reported by the Canadian Electricity Association.

That compares with 62,300 MW in the United States, where wind energy represented 4.1 percent of all electricity generation in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Yet despite a much larger U.S. market, Canada last year ranked fifth globally for newly installed capacity behind China (16,100 MW), Germany (3,238 MW), the United Kingdom (1,883 MW) and India (1,729 MW), according to data compiled by the Global Wind Energy Council.

Strong government incentives

While some of that growth can be attributed to an improving economy, Canada’s wind industry has also been buoyed by strong government supports for renewable energy, including feed-in tariffs in Ontario that have given wind power developers a guaranteed return on investment.

As in the United States, Canada’s energy markets are also undergoing profound change as economic and regulatory pressures weigh against traditional fossil-fuel-based power generation. The country has witnessed a marked decline in the burning of coal for electricity, in part due to the phaseout of all coal-fired generation in Ontario, the country’s most populated province.

Today coal accounts for roughly 15 percent of all of Canada’s electricity, behind hydropower at 63 percent and nuclear power at 16 percent. Recently the Canadian Nuclear Association has stepped up efforts to check the wind energy sector’s growth, citing an industry-commissioned study that found nuclear plants are “a better environmental choice” than wind farms because intermittent wind energy must be supplemented with other generation, usually natural gas turbines, to maintain grid reliability.

CanWEA officials responded by arguing that wind energy produces less greenhouse gases than nuclear on a life-cycle basis, is cheaper to produce, and comes without the environmental burden of radioactive wastes.

Hornung noted that as provincial governments develop strategies for meeting future electricity demand, they will have to consider a number of factors, including production costs, environmental impacts and economic benefits. Wind energy, he said, “is well-positioned to compete and meet this mix of requirements.”

The robust growth in Canada’s wind power sector in recent years has also benefited key supply chain firms.

General Electric Co., for example, announced this week that it recently installed its 1,500th turbine in Canada, bringing the company’s total installed wind capacity across Canada to 2,000 MW. Since installing its first Canadian wind turbine in 2004, GE has expanded its wind energy footprint to four provinces: Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.

Anne McEntee, president and chief executive officer of GE’s renewable energy business, said in a statement that the 1,500-turbine milestone is “a testament to the success of our customers in the country, and their success in bringing renewable energy to Canadian citizens.”