Its oil industry may be in the tank, but Western Canada is taking some of the wind out of Southwestern Ontario’s green energy sails.
After a boom that made Ontario the front-runner for wind energy in Canada, with both the largest number of wind farms and the biggest ones located in the wider London region, opportunities for the green energy industry are shifting outside the province, the head of the industry umbrella group says.
The outlook for wind energy in Canada is continued strong growth, but that’s thanks mainly to Alberta and Saskatchewan, says Robert Hornung of the Canadian Wind Energy Assocation.
“We are going to see the focus of the industry shift westward to some extent,” he said.
Ontario added 871 megawatts of wind energy in 2015, bringing its total installed capacity to 4,361 megawatts.
Quebec has been the other major driver for the industry, adding 397 megawatts in 2015 for a total of 3,262 megawatts.
“Those jurisdictions now look ahead and are facing low electricity demand growth and currently have some surpluses of electricity. The opportunities for new development will be slowing down,” Hornung said.
While highly controversial in Ontario, wind energy makes up only a fraction of the province’s power.
Latest figures from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator show wind energy makes up eight per cent of the province’s power-producing capacity, which is dwarfed by nuclear and gas-fired power.
The giant Bruce Power complex near Kincardine is the world’s largest operating nuclear plant.
In Southwestern Ontario, where most of Ontario’s wind farms have been built, wind energy has been especially divisive, in part because the province took control away from municipalities over where the giant, highrise-sized wind turbines could be built.
Deep subsidies paid to energy producers under long-term contracts after Ontario plunged headlong into green power with its 2009 Green Energy Act didn’t help, causing a political backlash to the projects in many areas of the province.
Those projects came on stream as the Liberal government finally shut down the province’s dirty coal-fired power plants years later than planned, including one near Sarnia, that fuelled summer smog.
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysk last month reported Ontario power customers paid $37 billion for the government’s decisions to ignore its own planning process for new power projects. She also noted consumers will pay $9.2 billion more for wind and solar projects under the province’s, 20-year guaranteed-prices program for renewable energy than under an old program.
In the latest round of wind energy contracts, with suppliers required to bid on price rather than be paid the fixed rates of the past, Ontario plans to accept bids for only an extra 300 megawatts of power. The contracts were expected to be awarded last year, but were delayed until March after a flood of bids to build wind farms were received.
Officials said they needed more time to evaluate the submissions.
Western Canada is expected to pick up the slack.
In response to commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, Saskatchewan has announced plans to increase its wind energy capacity from its current 221 megawatts to more than 2,000 MW by 2030. Initial procurement is expected to start in 2016.
Alberta, already Canada’s third-largest wind energy province, is expected to add thousands of megawatts of wind energy capacity as it moves to replace two-thirds of coal-fired power generation with renewable energy.
Hornung said there could also be opportunities for Canada’s wind energy industry to export power to the U.S., as more places there replace coal-fired power in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases.
“They have made it clear that imports from Canada are one way they could potentially do that,” he said.
Wind energy also is becoming more competitive as costs continue to drop, Hornung said. CanWEA estimates the cost of utility-scale wind projects has plunged 60 per cent in the last six years.