RENEWABLE ENERGY

Government incentives begin to boost Canada's wind power

Canada's wind power industry is poised to add 4,500 megawatts of new generation -- the equivalent of building four large nuclear power plants -- over the next three years. Most of the new turbines will come online in four provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, Canadian industry officials said this week.

At the annual meeting of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) in Toronto, leaders touted wind power's surge over the last four years, especially in Ontario, where in 2012 more electricity was produced from wind than from coal. The province has committed to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2014.

"Today, Ontario has a broad range of options for new electricity generation, but few that match the requirement for affordability, economic development potential, environmental sustainability, diversification, reliability and rate base value as compellingly as wind energy," CanWEA's president, Robert Hornung, told those attending the 29th annual conference.

"In addition, new wind energy development will continue to provide Ontario's wind energy supply and value chains with a core domestic market that will allow it to maintain and build upon its current investments in Ontario's green energy economy," he added.

Ontario's rapid adoption of wind energy follows the provincial government's adoption in 2009 of the Green Energy Act, which removed regulatory hurdles and established generous feed-in tariffs for developers of renewable energy projects. Today Ontario generates more than 2,200 MW of electricity from wind farms, enough to power more than a half-million homes.

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Reaction of an 'unwilling host'

Nationwide, Canada's wind power capacity is about 6,500 MW (3 percent of national electricity demand), a modest figure compared with the United States, where the wind energy sector now accounts for just more than 60,000 MW of capacity. But Canada's wind industry is growing faster than in many of its peer countries, thanks in part to government policies around renewable energy.

The politics of wind energy has been contentious in Canada, however, especially in Ontario, where some rural residents believe wind farms have degraded the landscape, driven up energy prices and possibly harmed the health of animals and humans. More than 70 towns in the province have joined the "Unwilling Host" coalition to rebuff wind energy developers.

Among other things, critics want more local autonomy over wind turbine siting decisions and greater assurances from the provincial government and wind energy developers that the benefits of hosting wind farms outweigh the drawbacks. Many also believe Ontario's clean energy policies were developed largely by and for affluent urbanites in places like Toronto and Ottawa.

"Municipalities are seeing the impact of existing turbines on their communities or their neighbors and do not want the same things to happen in their municipality," the coalition said in a recent statement. "The government's proposals for community benefit programs and community sponsorship do not address the core problems being created when wind turbines are located too close to people."

The group also criticized CanWEA's failure to provide a platform for an "alternate perspective" on wind energy at the Toronto event. "The conference is essentially the wind industry talking to itself," April Jeffs, mayor of the town of Wainfleet, Ontario, said in a statement.

Alberta feels the breeze

CanWEA officials noted that provincial governments across Canada are engaged in processes to review future electricity demand and assess potential new supplies of electricity against some key criteria, including cost-effectiveness, environmental impact and economic benefits.

"By any objective measure, wind is well-positioned to meet all of these requirements," the group said. "It is cost-competitive with almost any other generating technology, is one of the most environmentally sustainable sources of electricity available, and brings new jobs and investment to rural economies."

Other provinces that have seen significant growth in wind energy installations include Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

While still considered a center of fossil fuel production and consumption, Alberta now produces more than 1,100 MW of wind energy and receives 8 percent of its electricity from wind. Alberta's largest wind farm, known as the Halkirk project, began sending 150 MW of power to the grid earlier this year.

In Quebec, the second-largest wind-producing province with roughly 1,700 MW, government officials in August that it would seek to add 450 MW of wind power to the province's electricity portfolio by 2018. That announcement followed a similar call for 800 MW of wind energy issued in May.

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