Wind energy destined to become immune to partisan politics

Four major trends are boosting support for more wind energy in Canada

Despite differing policy approaches to renewable energy in Canada, I believe that wind energy is destined to become a non-partisan issue that is supported by all political parties.

Four trends are making wind energy more immune to politics:

    • Firstly, wind energy is the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation.
    • Secondly, it is clean, and clean matters.
    • Thirdly, it is increasingly contributing to the reliability of the grid.
    • Fourthly, wind energy fits well within an evolving and transforming power system.

Let’s look closer at these four trends, starting with affordability.

Customers across Canada are concerned about affordability of electricity. In response, cost is becoming the primary objective of energy policy makers and system operators. This is great news for wind energy.

Wind energy costs have fallen dramatically – by 69 per cent between 2009 and 2018 according to Lazard’s annual study in the U.S. And they are expected to continue falling. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts wind energy costs will drop another 47 per cent between 2017 and 2040.

Here in Canada, recent auctions have secured wind power for as low as $35 per megawatt hour. Wind energy is now the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation. Because it has the lowest levelized cost of energy, wind energy has become increasingly attractive as all political parties contemplate how to meet voter demands for lower costs.

Now let’s talk about clean energy.

Wind energy produces no air or water pollution, and does not generate toxic, hazardous or radioactive waste. The technology uses significantly less water than virtually any other form of large-scale electricity generation. Wind energy is a very environmentally-sustainable way to produce power. MORE

Clean power, right in the heart of fracking country

“Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Don Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year.” 


The Bear Mountain wind project in BC. Photo by Don Pettit

Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

“Everything was rolling along nicely. We could have had factories producing wind blades, and we were on the verge of launching a major wind industry with thousands of jobs in B.C.. But just as it started to get going they dropped it.”

“Wind prospectors were coming into the region from all over the world. We wanted to tap into that and try to make at least one of these wind facilities at least partially locally owned — which we did. And I think we set a very high standard for community-supported wind development.”

Their ground-breaking work led to PEC’s inaugural green energy project, the Bear Mountain Wind Park, being fully commissioned in 2009, even as fracking activity was peaking in the Peace. B.C.’s first large-scale wind park at 102 megawatts, it stands a few kilometres south of Dawson Creek and continues to power the South Peace region.

And then, in 2010, things inexplicably went south.

Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year. A report issued last week by Clean Energy Canada, entitled Missing the Bigger Picture, calculates that the renewable energy sector employed about 300,000 workers in Canada in 2017 and has significantly outcompeted the rest of the economy in growth.

Yet Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

The potential health benefits of a transition to renewable appear similarly impressive. A 2016 Pembina Institute analysis estimated that by phasing out coal-fired power entirely by 2030, 1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits and $5 billion worth of negative health outcomes would be avoided between 2015 and 2035. And unlike the air and water contaminants emitted by coal and natural-gas plants that sicken local populations and warm the planet, Pettit enthuses that solar energy has “no moving parts and no pollution.” in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

“Alberta has a program called community capacity building. It’s about communities wanting to replace some of the power that they’re using with solar, but they can also make them bigger than they need and put extra power into the grid and get paid for it.”

One significant benefit is a locked-in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

When asked what the provincial government could do to promote its spread, he answers without hesitation. Instead of spending billions on Site C to power the fracking industry, which he says would mostly benefit big corporations in the short term, it could offer small, targeted incentives.  MORE

The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks as Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, right, listens during a news conference announcing Green New Deal legislation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. A sweeping package of climate-change measures unveiled Thursday by Ocasio-Cortez drew a tepid response from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who didn’t explicitly throw her support behind the measure. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg© 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

The rollout of the Green New Deal will hit some roadblocks. But its overarching theme is that the nation should go totally green by 2030 to avert the irreversible effects of climate change. It’s the latest volley in the war of energy ideas — one that must ultimately address jobs, the economy and cost.

The Green New Deal is not an “abstract” idea. Globally economies are trending toward cleaner energies — efforts initiated by public demands, improved technologies and forward-thinking policies: The sponsors are compelled to accelerate the pace — to not just help impoverished communities but to also prevent environmental catastrophe.

Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.

Getting to 100% renewable energy levels is a hard task under the best of circumstances. Step one, though, is to bring down the cost of energy storage. Once advanced batteries can be produced in sufficient quantities, the cost of manufacturing them will fall. Prices, in fact, are dropping because companies like Tesla Inc. have been investing billions into production facilities.

MORE

How can Canada’s North get off diesel?

Diesel generation has outstayed its welcome in the North. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year while polluting the air, soil and water. But breaking the addiction is proving to be the challenge of a generation

Map of remote communities in Canada that are dependent on diesel.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon have energy grids that include large-scale hydro dams. In Yukon, fast population growth and increased energy demand from electric heating means the utility, Yukon Energy, is scrambling to bring in new power.

Its solution? Diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) generators.

“Maybe 10 months of the year now we’re burning LNG,”  explains Cody Reaume, energy analyst at the Yukon Conservation Society.

That isn’t much of a solution, according to Craig Scott, executive director of Ecology North, a non-profit that works on issues like climate change, waste reduction, water quality and food sovereignty.

“The focus is on electricity because it’s easy,” he says. “People can see it.”

But efficiency retrofits to homes and businesses, and switching to wood or wood pellet stoves, can be as effective as switching energy systems. MORE

 

 

A Clean Energy Revolution Is Rising in the Midwest, with Utilities in the Vanguard

Xcel is leading the pack, with a pledge to go 100% zero carbon by 2050. Other major electricity providers are trading coal for wind and solar sooner than planned.

Xcel Energy's Rush Creek Wind Farm mixes renewable energy and agriculture. Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty
This was a fulcrum year for the clean-energy transition in the Midwest as Xcel announced plans to go zero carbon and other utilities said they would shut down coal-fired power plants early. Credit: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Even with all the evidence that renewable energy has become less expensive than fossil fuels, it doesn’t seem real until utilities start to stake their futures on it.

For some Midwestern utilities, 2018 is the year that happened.

“It’s a matter of environmental value and economic justification.”

Xcel Energy of Minnesota in early December said it would go to zero carbon emissions throughout its eight-state territory by 2050, the first major utility to do so. MORE