Falling capital costs add to the appeal of wind energy in Alberta’s alternative energy mix
But transmission capacity and a deregulated power market remain significant hurdles
There’s nothing like sporting a skirt at a southern Alberta farm to impress upon the wearer, and surrounding onlookers, the mighty force of the region’s wind. Perhaps it was the sight of skirts whipping across girls’ legs that inspired entrepreneurs to imagine harnessing that power for the more boring but practical purpose of replacing some of the province’s coal-fired electricity with an emissions-free alternative.
Helped by Canada’s only deregulated power market, energy visionaries used the southern prairie winds to make Alberta the nation’s wind power pioneer, sailing ahead of all other provinces in output until just recently. Images of turbines against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains became commonplace. Wind farms cropped up across the southwest, producing around four per cent of the province’s electricity.
Even now – in defiance of economic theory that as fossil fuel prices tank, costly renewable energy development drops too – interest in developing wind power in Alberta is rising. Plans for more wind power abound. Alberta Energy has 3,377 megawatts of wind projects on the books, projected to be built by 2013. Since mid-December alone, three new wind projects have been announced, says department communications officer Kristin Stolarz. The total lineup of projects, including long-range plants, is just over 12,000 MW.
Environmental virtue is not the only explanation for the clean power lineup. Price tags on wind power projects are decreasing.
“Energy costs have come down, capital costs are down significantly, the costs of labor and turbines are down quite a bit from even six months ago,” says Marc Stachiw, vice-president of Alberta Wind Energy Corporation. Also, and arguably more importantly, there is some headway in removing one of the main obstacles against wind power’s growth – limited electricity transmission capacity.
For a long time, AWEC was held back by a lack of power lines. The firm’s Oldman River Project near Pincher Creek had been ready to go for so long that many of its permits expired while waiting for transmission capacity to materialize.