Wind, solar proponents have high hopes for Alberta renewable energy framework

Policy promised in throne speech

 By Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald
March 4, 2014

CALGARY – The solar and wind industries could be about to take off, proponents say, if a long-awaited renewable energy framework becomes a reality in Alberta.

The need for a comprehensive plan governing wind, solar, and geothermal electricity generation in Alberta has been discussed for years in Alberta. As far back as 2007, a group called the Clean Air Strategic Alliance — made up of representatives selected by government, industry, and the non-profit sector — recommended drafting such a framework with the goal of increasing Alberta’s supply of and demand for renewable and alternative electricity sources.

For the most part, the government has remained tight-lipped about its plans. But Monday’s throne speech contained a line promising the introduction of “an alternative and renewable energy framework that empowers consumers to exercise choice within the market-based electricity system.”

That’s significant, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. He said Alberta was at one time a leader in Canada on the renewable energy front, thanks to its ideal conditions for wind generation. But other provinces such as Quebec and Ontario have leaped ahead, in part because they have renewable energy policies that are helping to grow the sector.

“We’ve seen more and more of that investment flow to other jurisdictions,” Hornung said. “We will need to see some changes, because if the status quo is maintained, Alberta will have a hard time competing for this investment going forward.”

The challenge for the Alberta government is finding a way to support renewables within Alberta’s deregulated, free-market electricity system.

Ben Thibault, director of the Pembina Institute’s electricity program, said the government is unlikely to replicate Ontario’s feed-in tariff system, which assures wind farm developers of a fixed price for their electricity. But he said he would like to see a “renewable portfolio” or “clean electricity” standard, which would require retailers to either source a certain proportion of their electricity from renewable sources or ensure their portfolio falls below a maximum emissions intensity standard.

“This is a policy that’s been successful in a number of U.S. states,” Thibault said. “Over 30 states now have implemented a policy like this, including in free market systems like Texas, which has increased its wind energy substantially through this type of policy.”

Calgary-based renewable energy development company BluEarth Renewables currently has two Alberta wind projects in the works. Vice-president of market development Marlo Raynolds said the company would like to have more projects in its home province, but said the uncertainty around wind power pricing in Alberta scares away investment.

Requiring retailers to source a certain amount of electricity from renewable producers would be one way to get around that problem, he said.

“The renewable energy resource here, both solar and wind, is incredible — and it’s largely untapped,” Raynolds said. “We have a growing demand for electricity in this province, and it would be really nice to ensure that a portion of that portfolio, and a meaningful portion, is from renewable energy.”

An Alberta Energy presentation at the National Renewable Energy Forum last spring showed coal and natural gas currently account for 89 per cent of Alberta’s electricity, while wind accounts for four per cent, followed by hydro and biofuels and three per cent each. The final one per cent is categorized as “other.”

Electricity provider Enmax is supportive of all types of generation, said spokesperson Doris Kaufmann Woodcock, adding there is a place for renewables within Alberta’s current system. However, she said the company was pleased to see the government use the words “market-based” when it referenced the issue in the throne speech.

“(These words) signal to us that consumers will continue to have the choice to pay the costs of alternate and renewable electricity, rather than receive any significant level of government subsidy or see a change in our electricity market design to treat alternate and renewable electricity differently than other types of power generation,” she said in an e-mail.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald