Helping Alberta Green its Grid
Canada’s first commercial wind farm was installed on Cowley Ridge in southern Alberta in 1993, and in the 23 years since, wind energy has carved out an important role in the province’s electricity generation mix.
Alberta now ranks third in Canada with an installed wind energy capacity of 1,500 MW. The province’s wind farms produce enough electricity each year to power 625,000 homes, equivalent to about four per cent of Alberta’s electricity demand.
As impressive as its progress has been so far, the future for wind energy in Alberta is even brighter. The provincial government’s new climate change plan promises to phase out the province’s 6,300 MW of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, and replace two-thirds of it with renewable energy.
The percentage of demand met by renewable sources is expected to triple from nine per cent today to as much as 30 per cent within 15 years.
The strategy is expected to drive development of at least 4,000 MW of new wind energy capacity, positioning Alberta to reap significant economic and environmental benefits. Wind is a source of significant and sustainable greenhouse gas reductions, it generates electricity without emitting air pollutants or toxic wastes, and uses much less water than conventional power plants.
Wind energy is already one of the most affordable forms of electricity available today, and because its fuel is free, it also provides consumers with a hedge against fluctuating natural gas prices and rising carbon costs. And because wind is a decentralized generation source, it brings new income and jobs to rural communities, places where that kind of economic boost is often needed the most.
Despite the economic and environmental advantages of increasing wind energy supply in Alberta, the province’s unique electricity market design does not provide companies with the revenue certainty required to finance their projects. All new generators in the market face similar uncertainty, but because virtually all the costs of wind are incurred upfront and recovered over a long lifespan, the risks are disproportionately higher. This uncertainty must be mitigated for further investment in the very technology that Alberta needs to attract if it is to meet its climate change goals.
The Alberta government has taken a bold step with its aggressive Climate Leadership Plan, and now must work to implement the policies and market design changes that will allow it to attract the billions of dollars in new renewable energy investment it is seeking.
Wind by the numbers in Alberta (December 2015)
Number of Installations: 38
Number of Wind Turbines: 958
Total Installed Capacity (MW): 1,500
Average Turbine Capacity (MW): 1.57
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