GE sees green in expanding Ontario wind power market

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2012

In one of the biggest announcements this year for the domestic wind energy industry, General Electric Co. said yesterday that it will provide advanced technology turbines to nine new North American wind farms in the coming months, amounting to 650 megawatts of new emissions-free power generation.

But the investment won’t be happening in the United States, where wind energy developers remain in a holding pattern while Congress debates whether to extend renewable energy tax credits that provide a 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax benefit to wind farm owners.

Rather, the turbines will go to Ontario, where the wind power industry continues to see strong growth, thanks in part to the provincial government’s generous feed-in tariff program — provided under the Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009 — as well as a policy calling for the province’s electricity sector to become coal-free by 2014.

“Ontario is a very hot wind market for GE right now,” Simon Olivier, general manager of renewable energy sales for GE Canada, said in a statement. “The Green Energy Act has created a very positive investment environment and helped fuel the growth of GE and renewable energy in Canada.”

Yesterday’s announcement also marked a milestone for GE Wind in Canada. The company in 2005 installed its first 100 MW project at Erie Shores Farms Wind Farm near Port Burwell, Ontario. By 2015, it will have installed an estimated 1,200 MW of wind energy capacity in the province, enough to power 320,000 homes.

“For GE, it’s a remarkable story,” Olivier said.

Seeing green in Canada

Remarkable, and also fortunate for the company, noted Richard Caperton, director of renewable energy investment for the Center for American Progress in Washington

GE, like other major firms in the wind energy supply chain, has begun to feel the pinch of economic uncertainty around the possible loss of the federal production tax credit (PTC) at the end of the year.

“They do have a more stable investment environment up there,” Caperton said of Ontario, noting the province’s feed-in tariff program, which provides a 13.5-cent-per-kilowatt-hour fixed price for wind energy on 20-year purchase contracts.

Thus, leading U.S.-based manufacturers like GE, Vestas, Siemens and others will be looking across the Canadian border to expand their markets, at least in the short term, he said.

According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Ontario leads the country in wind power installations, with nearly 2,000 MW of installed capacity, including 500 MW of new generation added just last year. By comparison, the second largest wind-power-producing province, Quebec, had less than half as much installed capacity at the end of 2011.

The trade group has projected that wind energy could supply as much as 20 percent of Canada’s power demand by 2025, reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 million tons.

Not all the province’s residents are supportive of wind energy, however. A coalition of mostly rural Ontarians has grown increasingly agitated over the energy policies of Premier Dalton McGuinty, charging that the government’s push to build new wind farms has enriched relatively few while eroding the quality of life for thousands of rural residents (ClimateWire, Feb. 6).

Just yesterday, protesters marched in Toronto, demanding reforms to the 2009 green energy law and the ouster of McGuinty, who heads a minority Liberal government.

Lindsay Theile, a GE spokeswoman, said two of the nine Ontario projects to receive GE turbines have been announced: International Power Canada’s Melancthon project, for which it will supply 1.6 MW turbines, and Northland Power’s Manitoulin Island project on Lake Huron, which will employ 2.5 MW turbines.

The other seven projects will be announced later this month, she said.