October 25, 2006
A study released yesterday by Ontario’s electricity authorities says wind power could represent nearly 20 per cent of the province’s power-generation capacity with little compromise to system reliability.
Critics say the numbers are suspiciously high.
Ontario has four major wind farms in service now with a potential of producing 396 megawatts of emission-free electricity. About 1,300 megawatts are to be operating by 2010.
The problem with wind energy is that another source of power generation, or “operating reserve,” is required to pick up the slack when the wind isn’t blowing. Add too much wind to the mix and the whole system can become unstable.
The study, conducted by GE Energy, concluded that Ontario’s electricity system could handle up to 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity with “negligible” need for additional operating reserves. Beyond that, a more substantial investment in reserve power is required.
It also found that the average capacity value of the wind resource in Ontario during the summer is about 17 per cent, meaning the province can expect to get 170 megawatts of electricity from wind turbines that could, under optimal conditions, generate 1,000 megawatts.
Don Tench, director of planning and assessments for the Independent Electricity System Operator, which balances demand and supply on Ontario’s grid, said the study will help guide the province as it puts together its 20-year system plan.
“We’ve still got some work to do to integrate 5,000 megawatts,” said Tench. “But I’m much more confident that something like this would be feasible.”
The system operator, along with the Ontario Power Authority and the Canadian Wind Energy Association, jointly commissioned the study. Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, said he’s concerned that a wind-turbine manufacturer such as GE Energy was hired to do the work.
“The authorship of this suggests we should read it with caution,” said Adams, adding that his own analysis indicates the GE report is overly optimistic.
Tench said the study isn’t the final word on the issue. The system operator, for example, announced the creation of a working group yesterday that will explore ways of integrating wind power into Ontario’s grid.
The wind market, meanwhile, is booming in Canada.
The industry employed the equivalent of 1,200 full-time workers last year, up 65 per cent compared to 2004, and contributed $736 million to Canada’s GDP, says the wind association.
Revenue doubled in 2005 to $548 million.
Alberta has capped wind development at about 10 per cent of its system capacity because of inadequate transmission and concerns over grid stability.
Tench said Ontario will have to invest heavily in transmission to tap its vast wind resources up north.