December 2, 2011 / By Robert Hornung

Canada Poised to be a World Leader in Wind Energy

Canada is now the ninth largest producer of wind energy in the world and we are poised to become a world leader in wind energy generation.

In 2011, almost 1,400 megawatts of new wind energy capacity is to be added to provincial grids, representing an investment of $3.5 billion and creating 13,500 person-years of employment. As Canada renews its electricity generation resources, wind energy will play an ever-increasing part in delivering reliable, economic and clean electricity.

By the end of 2011 we will have more than 5,300 megawatts of wind energy capacity in place, enough to supply more than 1.5 million homes. Canada’s installed wind energy capacity has increased almost ten-fold over the past six years and is set to more than double over the next five years, with more than 5,000 MW of projects already contracted to be built and provincial government targets seeking significantly more than that by 2015.

Why is wind energy suddenly booming in Canada?

By 2025, Canada’s demand for electricity will grow by 36 per cent; at the same time, we will retire 15 per cent of our current generation fleet. We clearly need new power sources.

Every form of generation has its risks and benefits. Wind energy is increasingly becoming part of our power generation portfolios, because of its demonstrated benefits, and manageable risks. In fact, wind energy was the single largest new source of electricity generation in both the United States and the European Union in 2009.

The cost of developing wind energy is competitive with the more traditional forms of electricity generation. Installation costs have been declining as wind turbine supply has caught up to demand, and wind energy technology continues to improve. Moreover, since the fuel (wind) is free, the cost of generating power stays relatively constant over the life of the turbine.

Environmental costs are also very low. Wind energy emits absolutely no smog or greenhouse gas emissions, has no toxic air or water emissions, consumes no water, and leaves no waste products. This technology also has the advantage of being able to be built quickly and at various sizes, so it is a great option for keeping supply in sync with growing demand.

Of course, wind energy is dependent on wind availability. Integrating wind energy into the electricity grid requires actions to lessen variability (e.g., by distributing wind farms over a broad geographic area), understand variability (e.g., through wind energy forecasting) and manage variability (e.g., by “partnering” wind energy with other technologies).

For example, wind energy works particularly well in partnership with hydroelectric stations – which Canada uses to generate approximately 60 per cent of the power it needs. Most hydro stations operate by storing water behind dams to be used during the highest demand hours of the day. When winds are strong, hydro stations can remain idle, continuing to store their water to ensure even more is available when electricity demands are highest, or when sufficient wind is not available. Wind availability also peaks in the winter, when hydro availability is lower. Water and wind make great partners.

Wind energy also offers many economic opportunities for Canada. A typical wind turbine is made up of about 8,000 separate parts – from electronics to heavy metal components. Half the value of a wind energy project could be readily realized on a large scale in Canada and this is becoming the norm in both Ontario and Quebec.

Wind energy is also an important opportunity for rural economic development – a new natural resource to support rural communities, just as farming, fisheries, forestry and other natural resource industries have done. Wind energy projects bring direct investment, new high-value jobs, and economic growth to rural areas as well as a new source of taxes to help municipal government finances in rural areas.

In fact, Ontario is expected to install more than 5,600 megawatts of new wind energy capacity by 2018, creating 80,000 person-years of employment, attracting $16.4 billion of private investments (with more than half of that invested in the province), and contributing more than $1.1 billion of revenue to municipalities and landowners in the form of taxes and lease payments over the life of the projects.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association believes that wind energy can satisfy 20 per cent of Canada’s electricity demand by 2025, generating $79 billion of investment in Canada, creating 52,000 high-quality jobs including many in rural communities, producing $165 million in new annual revenues for municipalities, and adding 55,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity – displacing up to 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.

On its own, wind energy cannot meet all of Canada’s electricity needs. Other forms of generation are also needed. Each has its particular strengths, as well as drawbacks. Wind power has many benefits, and manageable risks. It deserves a larger role in the electricity generation portfolios of our provinces.