News

March 14, 2023

WEICan featured in Saltwire article


Saltwire interviewed WEICan CEO, Scott Harper in an article discussing Atlantic Canada's wind power.

 

See here for the full article.

 

Not calming down: Harnessing Atlantic Canada's profound wind power a crucial part of the region's future energy puzzle

There is some wind energy capacity now, but it is bound to grow as the transition to clean energy continues

Gary Kean

CORNER BROOK, N.L. — Harnessing the power of wind is nothing new, but it is heading towards playing a bigger role in helping Atlantic Canada meet its future energy needs.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are moves afoot to use wind energy to produce electricity, hydrogen and ammonia.

Within the past decade, there was talk about erecting turbines in the ocean to generate offshore wind energy, though that costly idea seems to have lost traction.

There are some privately operated wind turbines — operated by Elemental Energy in St. Lawrence on the Burin Peninsula and Fermeuse on the Avalon Peninsula, with a capacity for 27 megawatts (MW) each — taking advantage of the winds along Newfoundland’s south coast.

On the northwest tip of Prince Edward Island, Scott Harper has been watching the turbines right outside his Wind Energy Institute of Canada office since he began working there as chief executive officer in 2007.

The facility itself was established in 1981 to research ways to capitalize on the strong winds that persist in that region.

In 2010, Harper began overseeing the building of the institute’s own wind park, which now generates 10 MW of power via five two-megawatt turbines. The electricity it produces is sold back to the provincial power grid via a power purchase agreement.

The way of the future

These days, the institute’s work has shifted focus to how power gets integrated into the grid and the management of the assets. That includes maintenance of the machines as they progress through their life cycle and keeping up with the latest technology and components as parts need upgrading or replacement.

Work is also continuing on building up solar power and battery storage for the days — yes, they do happen from time to time — when the wind is not blowing and the turbines are not producing electricity.

The windmills within sight of Harper’s office account for about 30 MW of the little more than 200 MW in wind energy generated across P.E.I.

Harper has been watching the growing interest in adding more wind energy capacity elsewhere in Atlantic Canada and says it is the way of the future.

“When I started here, the peak load (on the electrical grid) in P.E.I. was just shy of 200 MW,” said Harper.

“We hit a peak last month of 396 MW. The overall energy hasn’t quite doubled, but its trajectory is quite high, so systems have to react to that. The infrastructure has to be invested in and you need some generation to meet that demand.”

More power coming from wind

There have been years, noted Harper, that as much as 25 to 28 per cent of P.E.I.’s energy has come from on-island wind turbines.

With the increased electrification of vehicles and other aspects of daily living, he said the need for homegrown solutions is growing.

“(Wind energy) goes a long way to provide some security,” he said.

“Those costs are known and fixed. The costs I’m getting on my (power purchase agreement) is set for the full 22 years of the power purchase agreement.”

There is a big concern electricity rates could get out of hand when they are tied to fossil fuel-powered generation, which is the case throughout much of Atlantic Canada.

Of course, wind energy is also considered a green source of energy, so protecting the environment is also a benefit of adding more wind energy projects.

Provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have the ability to generate hydroelectricity, which is also green energy, but it's not something every jurisdiction can achieve.

In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador’s exorbitantly over-budget Muskrat Falls project, it can also cost more than planned.

Wind out of the sails

While calm, windless days are not conducive to wind energy generation, there is also such a thing as excessive winds.

In Atlantic Canada, windstorms are a common occurrence and, as tropical storm Fiona showed last fall, they seem to be increasing in strength.

But wind turbines have proven themselves in the cold, windy and harsh Atlantic Canadian environment, said Harper.

“We measured winds of 170 kilometres per hour here on the site,” Harper said of the Fiona experience.

“They stopped generating at 90 kilometres per hour to protect themselves, but they withstood it and we were back online a couple days later.”

The powerful winds can make the turbines shake, but they have proven their durability.

“Everything is susceptible to the weather and the elements, and you’ve just got to work with the designers of it to make it as robust as possible in a way that still keeps it affordable and you can produce energy people can afford,” said Harper.

The day Harper spoke with Saltwire Network was one of those rare times when the wind was not blowing.

“But our solar panels are humming along pretty well,” he said of the institute’s 100-kilowatt capacity for power derived from sunlight.

“The solar energy is more expensive than wind, in terms of capital and whatnot, but, on a nice sunny day with no wind, it’s pretty valuable.”

Getting it right

Brenna Walsh agrees wind is destined to be a huge part of the transition to cleaner energy, especially when it comes to Nova Scotia getting off its reliance on coal-fired generating stations.

Walsh is the energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, an organization that engages the community on various environmental issues to help facilitate change.

According to Nova Scotia Power, there are currently more than 300 commercial wind turbines generating electricity in Nova Scotia.
The provincial government has set a goal to end coal-fired power by 2030 and, last September set a target to offer leases for five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by that same target year.

There are also several onshore wind projects in the works.

Walsh and the Ecology Action Centre will be taking a good look at some of the projects being proposed. She supports the idea of increasing wind energy capacity but said that doesn’t diminish the importance the impacts such facilities might have on communities and wildlife and the province’s biodiversity.

“That’s a place where the provincial government can take some leadership, taking a look at not just where wind will be efficient, but then also doing a survey of land use,” she said.

Minimizing impact

Walsh would like to see province-wide mapping that delineates the best places for wind farms and the most sensitive areas, in terms of biodiversity and other human uses, and see how the projects can proceed with minimal impact on those values.

“It could be a really impactful thing and could lay some groundwork for where some of those projects might be most effectively placed and balancing all those other concerns,” said Walsh.

Being proactive about addressing any potential opposition to projects from the start would be helpful to moving them along, she added.

“Consultations, project by project, with communities and thinking about what other additional benefits communities might be able to get from these developments is going to be really important,” she said.

Taking a look at what has happened in other jurisdictions that have developed wind energy to see what issues they dealt with in building up capacity would also be beneficial, she noted.

“We will probably have to grow the amount of power we have on our grid and a lot of that will depend on wind,” said Walsh.

“So, we want to be able to put ourselves in a position where we can develop that wind generation, as well as other complementing things (solar and battery storage capacity), and do that in a balanced way with other priorities — like making sure power is affordable and it is not impacting areas of wildlife and biodiversity.”

 

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