Canada can boost wind power without hiking energy bills — study

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016

More than a third of Canada’s electricity demand could be met with wind turbines without compromising the country’s grid reliability or driving up power bills, new findings from a much-anticipated wind power integration study show.

The study, led by GE Energy Consulting, is the first to make a detailed systemwide examination of the opportunities, costs and benefits of adding significant amounts of wind energy capacity to Canada’s grid, officials said.

Wind power proponents, including the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), said the report should allow policymakers and power system operators to make “realistically achievable and technically sound” decisions about where to site new wind farms and what role wind energy should have in Canada’s transformation to a low-carbon economy.

“Understanding the implications of integrating a greater amount of wind energy into Canada’s electrical system contributes to our goal of developing clean energy resources and moving our country towards a low-carbon economy,” Jim Carr, Canada’s minister of natural resources, said in a statement.

Clean energy deployment, and its role in addressing climate change, has become a key priority for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last month pledged alongside President Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico to produce 50 percent of North America’s power using a mix of renewables, nuclear, clean coal and efficiency technologies (ClimateWire, June 28).

Canada is already a world leader in emissions-free hydropower, with 76 gigawatts of capacity providing 63 percent of the country’s power, according to the Canadian Hydropower Association. Wind power development has also been robust, with 11.2 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2015, while solar capacity is expected to triple from 2.4 GW to 6.3 GW of capacity by 2020 (ClimateWire, Dec. 15, 2015).

But wind energy has not had an easy path in Canada. Opposition to commercial wind farms, particularly in Ontario, has been strident. Some organizations allege that wind farms contribute to a variety of environmental problems, ranging from noise pollution to seismic vibrations that are transmitted through the turbines’ foundations, damaging water wells.

Critics also contend that wind energy would not be economical in Ontario without feed-in tariffs, although most large wind farms are no longer eligible for the subsidies.

Wind energy has nevertheless grown, especially in Ontario and neighboring Quebec, which together account for more than 7.6 GW of generation capacity. Alberta is the country’s third-largest wind energy producer, at 1.5 GW of capacity, according to industry data.

The “Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study,” which was funded by CanWEA and Natural Resources Canada, examines a variety of factors, including the benefits of displacing older, less-efficient fossil plants with wind turbines; the added costs of building transmission lines to link wind energy production areas to load centers; and the risk that a high penetration of wind energy would pose to electric system reliability.

In the latter analysis, the study examined four scenarios with wind turbines supplying as little as 5 percent of the Canadian forecast system load in 2025, to as much as 35 percent. The study found that even at the highest penetration levels, wind energy can be deployed “in a reliable and efficient manner.”

“With respect to the estimated cost of new transmission tie-lines between provinces and between Canada and the U.S. needed to accommodate high penetrations of wind, it shows costs would be recovered within a few years,” the authors concluded. “As well, the additional backup generation required to balance wind energy’s variability is shown to be modest, amounting to a small fraction of total wind generating capacity.”

Wider deployment of wind power would also provide significant benefits for the climate by offsetting carbon emissions associated with traditional energy fuels, officials said.

“This technical study contributes to our understanding of how we can make the most effective use of a valuable, but underutilized, clean energy resource to make the kinds of deep emissions cuts ultimately needed to address climate change,” CanWEA President Robert Hornung said.