Addressing social acceptance of wind power in Canada

As wind energy grows across the country, more and more Canadians are experiencing wind farm plants for the first time. While an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted by CanWEA in the summer of 2010 clearly indicated a majority of Ontario residents strongly support increased wind turbines development, the industry is facing a vocal minority of opposition at the local level, and does not take support for granted.

In response, CanWEA has developed a comprehensive series of Best Practices in Community Engagement and Public Consultation to help guide the local activities of its members. The guidelines are designed to support wind energy project developers in continuously improving their work with local communities while ensuring that they meet and strive to exceed provincial requirements for public consultation.

2010 represented another significant step forward for the wind energy industry in Canada with the addition of 690 MW of wind farm capacity – representing CAD 1.7 billion (EUR 1.3 bn / USD 1.7 bn) in new investment. These new wind turbines projects, operating in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, brought Canada’s total installed wind farm capacity to 4,009 MW at the end of 2010.

Ontario is the current provincial leader in installed wind farm capacity accounting for 1,457 MW – roughly onethird- of national wind energy development. Alberta and Quebec follow at 806 MW and 663 MW respectively, and Canada’s other seven provinces together account for the remainder.

Wind power has increased almost ten-fold in the last six years in Canada as governments seek ways to meet rising energy demand, reduce environmental impacts of electricity generation, and stimulate rural and industrial economic development. It is expected that wind energy’s rapid growth in Canada will continue with production tripling in the next five years.

At the federal level, the current government’s failure to extend or replace its very successful ecoENERGY for Renewable Power (ERP) incentive program in its 2010 budget was a significant setback. Among countries actively pursuing wind energy, it would be hard to find another where the federal government is playing such a limited role, and the implications for Canadian competitiveness are serious.

That is particularly true when it comes to competing for investment with the United States, where the federal government plays a more important role in facilitating the development of wind turbines. While the federal government has indicated that it believes it can best support wind energy deployment through the introduction of a regulatory framework and price for greenhouse gas emissions, the details and timing of such a framework remain unclear. Until then, the federal government remains on the sidelines and responsibility for competing for wind energy investment rests with the provinces.

In 2009, the Ontario Government introduced Ontario’s new feed-in tariff (FiT) program under the Green Energy and Economy Act, the first of its kind in North America. 2010 saw the awarding of 1,529 MW of wind energy contracts under the FiT.

Nova Scotia’s new energy policy, released in 2010, has established a new comprehensive framework for facilitating wind energy development in the province. Among its provisions is the creation of a mandatory target for 25% of the province’s electricity needs to be supplied from renewable sources by 2015 and a goal of boosting that to 40% by 2020.

In British Columbia, the provincial government has introduced a Clean Energy Act outlining where it wants to take its electricity sector in the years to come. Wind turbines proved its viability in the market in BC Hydro’s 2010 call for clean power, with contracts awarded to six projects totaling 534 MW of capacity, and the government has made it clear it sees the technology as an important player in its future wind farm plans.

At the end of 2010, Hydro-Quebec announced the results of a unique tendering process for 500 MW of wind energy from First Nations (indigenous peoples) and regional municipalities. With these new contracts, Quebec will have procured virtually all of the power required to meet its ambitious objective of 4,000 MW of wind energy by 2015. Beyond 2015, however,  the Quebec government has only indicated that it will procure 100 MW of wind energy for every additional 1,000 MW of hydroelectric development, which would leave thousands of megawatts of high quality wind energy resources undeveloped and pose a threat to the long-term viability of the rapidly developing wind energy supply and value chains in Quebec .

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) released a WindVision document for Quebec which proposes a viable path forward for wind power development in the province from 2015-2025.

Canada remains on track to have a minimum of 12,000 MW of wind energy in place by 2015 – keeping it on the path required to meet CanWEA’s goal to supply 20% of Canada’s electricity demand with wind energy in 2025.

It is expected that 2011 will see a record level of new wind farm development with more than 1,000 MW likely to be installed in Canada. In addition, more than 6,000 MW have already been contracted to be built over the next five years. This growth will be augmented by recent requests for proposals for more wind energy in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as well as future awards of feed-in tariff contracts in Ontario.

While the prospects for Canada’s wind energy industry over the next few years are very promising, and some positive initial steps have been taken to support the development of a long-term market for wind energy, some of the challenges for the industry include 

Policy: Establishing long-term targets and stable and sustained policy supporting wind energy deployment is critical to keeping investment in Canada;

Grid infrastructure: Facilitating the planning and construction of wind friendly transmission in jurisdictions across Canada as transmission constraints are already preventing wind projects from proceeding in some parts of the country;

Public acceptance: Engaging communities where wind turbines development is proposed in a meaningful and effective manner is important because wind energy projects cannot succeed without broad community support.