From 200 to 10,000 MW: Achieving CanWEA’s First Vision
June 23, 2015
I was cleaning my office this weekend and came across the materials I’d kept from the first CanWEA conference that I attended in the year 2000, hosted in Vancouver, BC. About 150 people attended, Paul Gipe gave a keynote address about the growing success of wind energy in Europe and there was a public evening speech given by David Suzuki who spoke about the importance of renewable energy in the urgent fight against climate change.
At the time, Canada had only just begun to develop wind energy, but CanWEA set out a vision of 10,000 MW of wind capacity by the year 2010. It was a bold goal, and as there was less than 200 MW of wind in the country at the time, it seemed more than a lofty goal; in fact it seemed a little crazy.
CanWEA’s first vision to achieve 10,000 MW of wind capacity by the year 2010
While wind energy was growing around the world, there was only 17,000 MW globally and to think Canada could achieve 10,000 MW in a decade was a tall order. It would require more than a 50-fold increase of the industry, and new rules in 8 provinces to allow for wind as there was only a wind farm in Alberta and in Quebec at the time – in addition to a single turbine operating in Yukon.
But things did change, and they changed fast. The federal government implemented a “Wind Power Production Incentive” offering 1 ¢ of support for every kWh produced from wind up to 1,000 MW of capacity. This gave enough assurance for entrepreneurs to start making commercial investments across Canada. The program was expanded to 4,000 MW by the new Conservative government following the 2006 federal election and rebranded as the ecoEnergy for Renewable Power Program.
Provincial programs followed, including Ontario’s feed-in tariff as well as Quebec’s procurement targets, both of which successfully drew new manufacturing to Canada. When the Bear Mountain project opened in BC in 2009, it meant wind farms were operating in every province. When 2010 rolled around, 4,000 MW of wind were operating from coast to coast to coast, not quite the lofty 10,000 MW target that had been set out a decade early, but it didn’t seem crazy anymore.
Wind’s growth continued even as incentives have dwindled across Canada, and what was an alternative energy source in the year 2000 has now become the lowest cost option for new electricity generation. As we move into 2015, the 10,000 MW mark was achieved this summer, fittingly perhaps in a year where the world is poised to start seriously addressing the climate change problem that we discussed at the Vancouver conference 15 years earlier.
Wind energy is a success story in Canada, having gone from the margins to the mainstream in just over 15 years, thanks to entrepreneurs, government leaders, land owners and farmers who fostered, enabled and joined the clean energy revolution. While wind energy is now providing close to 10 per cent of the electricity needs of a province like Nova Scotia and almost 30 per cent in states such as Iowa, there is a lot yet to do, and a lot to learn from wind energy’s success for other emerging renewables. Now is not the time to sit on our laurels, rather getting energy policy right today is as important as it ever has been if we are to fully capitalize on our renewable energy resources.
Our energy policies need to reflect that renewables have different cost structures than fossil fuel generated electricity; the fuel is free, but up front costs are heavy. While wind can generate power at one of the lowest costs, long-term revenue predictability is important to assure a return on capital investments. If Canada is going to see the progress we’ve made in wind energy truly pay off, we are going to need to fully recognize the environmental benefits so wind and other renewables can continue to provide even more low cost, and emissions-free electricity. With the past as a guide, we know big things can happen when we set our sights to the wind!
Featured Photo ©Siemens Canada Limited
Former Policy Director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association