“BC has the potential to be a clean-energy superpower.”
So said B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon in last week’s throne speech.
But one organization that had hoped to play a role in realizing that goal – the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) – might have either missed that speech or simply not put much faith in it.
CanWEA has folded its B.C. tent and set sail for Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In a recent letter to its members, CanWEA’s Jean-François Nolet, vice-president of policy and communications, announced it is pulling its regional director from B.C., due to a lack of opportunity to develop new wind projects here.
It plans to focus on Alberta, which aims to phase out coal power and replace much of it with renewable energy, and Saskatchewan, which plans to double renewable power generation by 2030.
“We obviously have limited resources, and we’re going to focus our efforts on those markets which provide the greatest opportunities in the short term to see more wind energy deployed in the country,” CanWEA president Robert Hornung told Business in Vancouver.
“While B.C. has tremendous untapped potential for wind energy … it’s also true that, at this time, there’s no vision of short-term opportunities emerging in B.C.”
Wind power developers made great inroads in B.C. between 2009 and 2015, investing $1.3 billion in new wind farms.
Under 25-year power purchase agreements with BC Hydro, developers built four large wind farms here: Bear Mountain (Dawson Creek), Quality Wind (Tumbler Ridge), Dokie Wind (Chetwynd) and Cape Scott (Port Hardy).
Combined, they have a generating capacity of about 480 megawatts (Site C dam’s estimated capacity will be 1,100 MW).
Sometime this year, a fifth wind farm – the $400 million Meikle Wind project near Tumbler Ridge – is expected to start generating power.
But that might be the last wind farm built in B.C. for at least a decade, because these projects require long-term power purchase agreements from BC Hydro.
“BC Hydro has indicated they’re not likely to see a call for power in B.C. till 2030, and at the same time we have other markets where commitments are being made, or decisions being taken, that open up opportunities for new investment in the short term.”
B.C. developers like Aeolis Wind Power Corp. and NaiKun Wind Energy Group (TSX-V:NKW) have several wind farm proposals on the drawing board.
But without a new power call from BC Hydro on the horizon, there is some question whether those projects could get funded.
Industrial demand for power in B.C. is falling, thanks to the closure of mines and pulp and paper mills, which are both big electricity consumers. Moreover, the B.C. government and BC Hydro decided to put all of their eggs in one basket in meeting future energy demands with a single megaproject: the $9 billion Site C dam.
That has effectively killed the prospects of new wind power projects being funded for at least a decade, according to CanWEA.
“In B.C., I would agree with CanWEA’s assessment that the opportunity is, at a minimum, uncertain and seems to be relatively far out in time,” said Dan Woynillowicz, policy director for Clean Energy Canada. “Over the past several years, I would concur that [based on] the signals from the provincial government and from BC Hydro, there’s fairly limited near-term opportunity.”
BC Hydro maintains there are better wind prospects in other provinces because they’re playing catch-up to B.C.
However, Alberta already has three times the installed wind capacity that B.C. has.
Woynillowicz thinks there could be an opportunity to export B.C. power to Alberta to help that province wean itself of coal.
“For Alberta to achieve its emission reduction objectives, importing from BC Hydro could present a really cost-effective way to do that,” Woynillowicz said.
But Alberta Premier Rachel Notley appears to have splashed cold water on that idea.
In December, she told the Globe and Mail: “It’s certainly one option. But we in Alberta want to be the owners of our power. … Our plan, going forward, is to build a system that ensures that we in Alberta are generating enough power for the needs of Alberta.”
Juergen Puetter, founder and CEO of Aeolis Wind – which built B.C.’s first wind farm, Bear Mountain – is more bullish than CanWEA about the prospects for new wind power projects being built in B.C. He thinks they could be built without BC Hydro’s participation.
“We think that there are a number of ways of utilizing the stranded energy that we have in B.C. in abundance, particularly wind, and that doesn’t necessarily need BC Hydro,” he said.
“We are entering a carbon-constrained economy, and there are many different types of projects that we think will have very substantial energy demand that are currently not anywhere on the drawing board.”
One potential area of development, he said, is to use B.C. wind power in pumped storage projects to provide the firm power needed to backstop wind power in Alberta. In pumped storage, wind is used to pump water uphill to a lake, which is then released when the power is needed to drive turbines.
NaiKun CEO Michael O’Connor thinks the biggest opportunity for projects like his might be a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.
NaiKun has an ambitious plan to build an offshore wind power project off the coast of Haida Gwaii.
At $1.5 billion to $2 billion, it would be expensive, but it would tap a powerful wind resource to produce power for Haida Gwaii, which currently gets most of its power from diesel generators. It would also tie into the grid at Prince Rupert, where LNG plants are proposed.
“When LNG happens, the demand out there is going to be one of the only places where the demand is going to grow fast and significantly,” O’Connor said.Puetter agreed: “The LNG industry is one potential candidate. Today it looks pretty dim, but it doesn’t mean to say that it’s the same in six months. They have a very strong incentive for carbon reduction as costs are placed on carbon.”