'A utility is a fairly conservative entity.'

Wind lobby pushes for millions in northern subsidies


The lobby group representing the Canadian wind energy industry is pushing Ottawa for millions of dollars in subsidies to develop wind power in remote northern communities.

CanWEA, the Canadian Wind Energy Association, wants the federal government to spend $74 million over ten years. Sean Whittaker, CanWEA's policy director, said such a program would help the North reduce pollution and energy costs, while growing the domestic market for Canadian-built wind turbines.

"A utility is a fairly conservative entity," he said in an interview. "What they really want is a signal, or assistance, or a push as it were from the federal government."

Under the plan, wind energy produced in so-called "hub" communities, such as Whitehorse or Iqaluit, would benefit from a three-cent per kilowatt-hour subsidy. In more remote places -"spoke" communities – the subsidy would amount to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

"It's a win for the communities," Whittaker said. "It's a win for Canadian manufacturers who actually are half of all the world's manufacturers of turbines."

Ikummatiit, Nunavut's energy strategy released in Sept. 2007, mentions wind power as an option for alternative energy in the territory, but the strategy places greater emphasis on conservation, residual heating systems and hydroelectric power.

What Qulliq really wants is the money to build a hydroelectric dam for Iqaluit, which burns one-third of the diesel used in Nunavut's power plants, with possible connections to other South Baffin communities.

But that costs money the utility doesn't have and leaves dozens of other communities reliant on diesel generators.

Energy minister Ed Picco said wind power is problematic for Nunavut because none of the territory's communities are connected by a grid. That means excess electricity produced by wind turbines can't be absorbed by the system. And Picco said it's also a challenge to sync windmills with diesel generators.

Nunavut used to have working wind turbines in Kugluktuk and Rankin Inlet, but they've been abandoned for years. Picco said the electricity they produced cost about 70 cents a kilowatt-hour.

Even under CanWEA's plan, that's too expensive for Nunavut Power. By contrast, one kilowatt-hour of electricity costs 37 cents to produce at Iqaluit's diesel plant, Nunavut's largest.

There's also a lack of trained workers who would be able to fix the wind turbines, which are more prone to breakdowns in the harsh Arctic climate, Picco said.

But Picco is quick to say he supports CanWEA's efforts to lobby Ottawa for clean energy subsidies. He says one way to jump start wind power production in Nunavut would be for the federal government to fund the construction of an experimental wind farm in the Kivalliq, where strong winds are the most consistent.

"The cost of running one windmill, it really isn't feasible," Picco said. "That's why we're saying we'd like to have a wind farm where you'd have 10 or 12 [turbines] in place so then the economies of scale [are there] and the business model is more affordable."

Picco suggested Natural Resources Canada could run a wind farm for five years to "work out the bugs in the cold-weather climate."

"At the end of that five-year period you might have a technology that we could export to other cold-weather places," he said.

John Baird, the federal environment minister, is to visit Nunavut next week, and Picco said he's going to use the meeting to push for money from Ottawa to develop alternative energy, particularly hydroelectric power.

"We need these guys to come to the table," he said.

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