Canada added just over 700 megawatts of new wind energy to grids across the country last year, but B.C. was largely out of the picture.
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) 2016 market report released late last month, 21 wind projects spread between Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia boosted the country’s total wind power capacity to 11,898 megawatts.
Over the past four years, wind producers in Canada have added an average 1,327 MW of wind power each year, an 18 per cent growth rate.
In a release, CanWEA President Robert Hornung said more wind energy capacity has come online in the last 11 years than any other type of power generation.
“Costs for wind energy have fallen dramatically over the past seven years, making wind energy one of Canada’s two most cost-competitive sources of new electricity supply” alongside natural gas, Hornung said. “And unlike natural gas, wind energy is not impacted by carbon prices or commodity price fluctuations, meaning that wind energy will only become more affordable over time.”
Despite this, wind has been relegated to a “niche” market in British Columbia, where it accounts for just 1.6 of total power generation.
Wind power investment in B.C. has slowed since the provincial government approved the Site C dam, which will add 1,100 megawatts to the grid at a time when demand is uncertain. The project is set to come online in 2024, CanWEA expects there will be no large-scale wind projects in the province for at least a decade.
There has also been less need to transition to lower-emitting energy sources in B.C., since the province already gets more than 90 per cent of its electricity from renewable hydroelectric sources.
BC Hydro’s standing offer program continues to provide opportunities for projects 15 MW or smaller, but the industry sees this as a “niche” market compared to opportunities in other provinces.
The industry could, however, get a bump if the province’s liquefied natural gas dreams come to fruition. While B.C.’s oil and gas industry is in a down cycle, wind could be “deployed quickly and at a scale that matches demand, making it an ideal choice to step in and fill the gap,” CanWEA says.
While the election of U.S. President Donald Trump has created considerable uncertainty among renewable power providers, some continue to see opportunity.
In an interview with UBC News, UBC Prof. Werner Antweiler said wind power is becoming less expensive, making it difficult for the White House to slow the transition to clean power in North America.
“While (the Trump administration) may be able to slow down innovation, it can never reverse it,” Antweiler said. “So, if natural gas is cheaper than coal, Trump won’t be able to revive the coal industry. To displace fossil fuels, innovation is critical to bringing about cheap clean energy because it will drive cost reductions. For example, wind energy has reached the point where it is competitive with other energy sources even without subsidies, while geothermal systems have become one of the cheapest energy sources available.”
By Jonny Wakefield, 9 February 2016