Energy winds are changing

CanWEA reports on Alberta’s readiness to meet the provincial government’s 30 by 30 goal with a large wind supply

Near Pincher Creek with Livingston Range in background.

Near Pincher Creek with Livingston Range in background. — Photo courtesy Jaq Murillo

Everyone knows renewables are on the rise, especially in Alberta with the provincial government’s “30 by 30” goal of adding 30 per cent or 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity to Alberta’s energy grid by 2030.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is eager to promote wind’s massive potential as Alberta’s primary renewable resource. Its recent “Alberta Wind Energy Supply Chain Study” proposes that if wind accounted for 90 per cent of the Alberta Government’s 30 by 30 goal, the resulting wind projects would create $3.7 billion in spending and 15,000 job years of employment in the province by the 2030 target. CanWEA’s study shows that Alberta is ready for this ambitious goal in terms of both wind resource and available skilled workers.

Misconceptions of wind

Following the Alberta Government’s 30 by 30 announcement, CanWEA noticed a few misconceptions in the public’s perception of wind energy. These misconceptions are left over from previous decades and no longer hold true as research and investment grows in wind.

One common misconception is that wind is an expensive and unreliable resource. In reality, the cost of wind generation has dropped 65 per cent since 2009. “As far as reliability goes, we are seeing an evolution in the understanding of how reliability can be enforced in the electricity grid,” said Evan Wilson, Prairie regional director for CanWEA. “There are more system operators across North America that are bringing on wind generation and are figuring out how to integrate it properly.”

In Alberta specifically, Wilson said, “I think there is a misconception that we are involved in some sort of war on gas, as if the Alberta Government is looking to replace all our generating capacity with wind or solar, and this is the end of gas. It’s not the end of gas in Alberta.” The current plan will only bring 30 per cent generating capacity from renewables with 70 per cent still coming from gas. “It’s about making a more diverse supply mix come online with the phase-out of coal that’s mandated for 2030.”

Evan Wilson, prairie regional director at CanWEA.

Evan Wilson, prairie regional director at CanWEA. — Photo courtesy CanWEA

Alberta leads the way

Alberta brought wind power to Canada by installing the country’s first commercial windfarm, Cowley Ridge in 1993. Now, the province ranks third behind Ontario and Quebec with 901 wind turbines producing a combined 1,479 megawatts of wind—six per cent of the province’s electricity demand. CanWEA expects to see Alberta take the lead again with 30 by 30. “I would argue that Alberta has been a leader and is in a position to continue being a leader in the development of wind,” Wilson said. “I think that the Alberta industry has shown leadership in going ahead to develop wind since the early 1990s because they saw the opportunity from the resource.”

Alberta’s wind supply is one of the best in Canada. It is predictable, strong and effective. Wilson said Alberta currently clocks in at third for installed capacity because “the big difference is Ontario and Quebec made these concerted efforts to build their fleets of renewables.” Now that Alberta has focused more on encouraging renewables, the province will quickly become a wind industry leader. “I think the government has picked an ambitious but doable target with the 30 by 30 target,” Wilson said. 

Ready for 30 by 30

Wilson believes that Alberta is doing a lot of things well to stay on track for the target. For example, the Renewable Energy Project hosted by the Alberta Electric System Operator is competitive, which will drive down prices. The contract model increases competition and gives incentives for the developers to bid low-priced projects. “It’s going to be difficult for opponents to talk about the cost of wind,” Wilson said. “I think we are going to see the lowest contract of electricity prices in the country coming out of this procurement.” Also, the staged method of competitions to award renewable contracts lets companies plan their future involvement.

Alberta’s energy industry is poised to meet the demands of 30 by 30 while reaping environmental and economic benefits. CanWEA’s “supply chain study” describes how Alberta’s current energy workers can pivot to take advantage of the transition to renewables. If wind does in fact account for up to 90 per cent of the 30 per cent renewable goal, Alberta’s engineers, construction workers operations and maintenance skilled workers are transferrable between energy projects.

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