Wind Power Generation

Jim Hamilton
Published November 8, 2006

Case Summary

As a source of electricity, wind power has many advantages from a sustainability perspective. Aside from equipment manufacture, it carries with it little ecological impact, produces no green house gases, physically takes little room for implementation (one reference quotes 2 per cent of a farmer’s field), and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs and/or the use of nuclear energy. Consequently, many see wind power as a potential, if not an integral part of a sustainable solution for Canadian communities.

Several initiatives have proposed that directly link wind power to the needs of nearby communities, such as the Wolfe Island Wind Project at Kingston, Ontario.

A number of planning and economic issues offset the advantages of wind power. On a kilowatt hour cost basis with today’s technologies, wind power appears twice as expensive than other power sources, and to take advantage of economies of scale typically requires a size of investment that often is beyond the means of smaller communities. In addition, wind supply can be intermittent, and there is anecdotal evidence that the maintenance costs of wind turbines may be considerably higher than initially anticipated.

The Wolfe Island proposal evolved into the Ontario Power Authority awarding a contract to the Canadian Hydro Developers Inc on November 21, 2005 for 86 wind turbines to be located on Wolfe Island just east of Kingston, Ontario. This investment, valued at approximately $410 million, is sufficient to power 75,000 homes, a population base more or less equivalent to the larger Kingston area. The investment can be seen as a major step in creating a sustainable community in Kingston and the surrounding islands; however, the investment also requires the “deep pockets” of the Ontario Power Authority to proceed and the ready availability of a grid-based alternative to provide continuity when the wind stops blowing. An environmental assessment is now underway to assess the proposal.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Wind power undoubtedly supports environmental sustainability, and hence as a tool can play an integral part in the development of a sustainable community. As noted above, it produces no greenhouse gases, physically takes little room for implementation, and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs and/or the use of nuclear energy. Intermittency is a problem. Nevertheless, within a larger grid-system, when not intermittent wind power does directly substitute for less sustainable technologies such as oil/gas generation.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors include:

  1. a significant upfront investment to take advantage of economies of scale, especially with respect to linking into electricity grids so as to have an alternative in intermittent conditions;

  2. a “deep pocket” to finance the additional costs of wind power investments at least until per unit costs begin to approach those of other power sources;

  3. proximity to a wind-strewn area. This of course presumes that the investment will be undertaken as an integral part of a community’s sustainability plan. It can be maintained that wind power should more properly be considered a provincial-wide matter; and,

  4. linkage to a long-term plan. Wind power requires significant investment with returns spread over 20 to 25 years and planning horizon should reflect this.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Natural Resources Canada notes that modern wind turbine generators cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per kilowatt for multi-turbine wind farms. Smaller individual units cost up to $3,000 per kilowatt. The Wolfe Island Wind Project (referred to above) will put down 86, 2.3 megawatt turbines with an estimated total cost of $410 million or very slightly over $2,000 per kilowatt. Financing for the project will be through Canadian Hydro Developers Inc on the basis of a long-term contract with the Ontario Power Authority.

The Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition estimates that wind power costs range from 8 cents to 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour, exceeding the 2002 average actual wholesale prices of electricity in Canada by 1.2 to 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour depending on province. If costs for administration, distribution, marketing, etc. are included, the additional costs increase to 3.2 to 11.8 cents, implying that provincial energy agencies are paying a considerable premium for wind power. To partially offset these differences, the Government of Canada's Wind Power Production Incentive offers a financial subsidy of one cent per kilowatt hour to suppliers of electricity generated through the use of wind power.

In remote areas, the cost of generating electricity using diesel generators can range from $0.25 to $1.00 per kilowatt hour as opposed to $0 .10 to $0.12 for wind power, making wind power clearly cost effective in these sorts of situations where and when good wind is available.

Research Analysis

Analysis of this case study presents leads to four key observations:

  1. As a technique, wind power provides a renewable and sustainable energy source, but is problematic as to cost with today’s technologies.

  2. Wind power is only one of several renewable technologies leading to electricity generation and/or effective energy management.

  3. For wind power, it is not clear whether the appropriate planning/implementation authority should be at the community or at the provincial level due to the intermittent nature of wind power.

Detailed Background Case Description

The Environmental Impact of Wind Power

As a source of electricity, wind power provides many advantages from a sustainability perspective. Aside from equipment manufacture, it has little ecological impact, produces no green house gases, physically takes little room for implementation (one reference quotes 2 per cent of a farmer’s field), and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs, and/or the use of nuclear energy.

The following, largely taken from the Canadian Electricity Association’s publication entitled Power Generation in Canada, compares the environmental impacts of electricity generation options:

Impact of Electricity Generation Options

TechnologyAir PollutantsGHG(1)Water Use (2)ExtractionWasteOther
Demand side Management NoneNoneNoneNoDisposal of replaced equipmentReduce demand results in reduced emissions
Reservoir hydroNoneLowFlow pattern changedNoNoFish migration, flooding
Run-of-river hydroNoneNoneMinimalNoNoCan interfere with recreational activity
NuclearNoneNoneThermal dischargeYesRadioactiveHigh water cooling required
Natural gasLowMediumThermal dischargeYesNoModerate water cooling required
Oil-fired generationHighHighThermal dischargeYesYes (3)Moderate water cooling required
Conventional coalHighHighThermal dischargeYesYes (3)Moderate to high water cooling required
“Clean coal” with CO2 captureLowMediumThermal dischargeYesYes3Increased coal consumption per MWh
Energy recovery generationNoneNoneLowNoNo 
Geothermal powerNoneLowLowNoYesOdour
Wind powerNoneNoneNoneNoNoBird/bat kills
Solar PVNoneNoneLowFor manufacturer, onlyYesHigh energy consumption during manufacture
Tidal powerNoneNoneNon-consumptiveNoNoOther impacts unknown
Wave powerNoneNoneNon-consumptiveNoNoOther impacts unknown
  1. Greenhouse gas emissions from energy conversion process only, not as a result of equipment manufacture or construction.

  2. Difficult to compare for different technologies.

  3. From ash management and/or flue gas treatment.

Comparative Technological Features

Wind power is considered an intermittent technology for generatng electricity in that its production of power can be variable. Nevertheless, the output of wind power can be integrated into long-term power planning if the technology can be twinned with more controllable technologies such as reservoir-based hydro or oil/gas plants as outputs can be varied to compensate for wind power down-times as well as service peak load situations. To put this into context, electricity usage in Ontario on July 16, 2006 typically varied from just over 14,000 megawatts at 6:00 am EDT to almost 23,000 megawatts at 6:00 pm.

The Wolfe Island project is an example of a wind-power based renewable energy project. The Ontario Power Authority cites other examples within the Province of Ontario including:

Wind Power Project Capacity Status
Melancthon Grey Wind Project Phase 1, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. (Shelburne)67.5 megawattsComplete
Melancthon Grey Wind Project Phase 2, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. (Shelburne)132 megawattsIn progress
Erie Shores Wind Farm, Erie Shores Wind Farm L.P. (Port Burwell)99 megawattsOperating
Prince I Wind Farm, Superior Wind Energy Inc. (Prince Township)99 megawattsIn progress
Prince II Wind Power Project, Brascan Power (Prince Township)90 megawattsIn progress
Blue Highlands Wind Farm, Superior Wind Energy Inc. (Blue Mountains)49.5 megawattsIn progress
Kingsbridge I Wind Power Project EPCOR (Goderich)39.6 megawattsOperating
Kingbridge II Wind Power Project, EPCOR (Goderich)158.7 megawattsIn progress
Kruger Energy Port Alma Ltd. Partnership, (Port Alma)101.2 megawattsIn progress
Enbridge's Leader Wind Project A Leader Wind Corp., (Kincardine)100.65 megawattsIn progress
Enbridge's Leader Wind Project B Leader Wind Corp., (Kincardine)99 megawattsIn progress
Ripley Wind Power Project, Suncor Energy Products Inc. and EHN Windpower Canada Inc. Accione Energia, (Ripley)76 megawattsIn progress

The following is derived mainly from Power Generation in Canada and compares a few major technological features of various wind power technologies, particularly with respect to responding to changes in demand and to seasonal variability.

TechnologyAbility to Deliver Base and Peak LoadsAmenability to Seasonal Variation
Demand-side management Will generally reduce peak load demand and/or shift load. Some measures reduce year-round energy use (or base load).Little variation. Some measures may save more energy in the summer months while others in the winter months.
Reservoir hydroCan change output rapidly thus serves both peak and base loads.Little as storage generally buffers variability.
Run-of-river hydroCase specific. Plants are subject to changes in seasonal flows which can be significant for smaller facilities.Generally low or little production in winter months due to freezing.
NuclearLimited ability to change output (or base load).No variability
Natural gasCan rapidly change output, especially to serve needle peaks; generally too expensive to serve base loads.No variability
Oil-fired generationCan rapidly change output, therefore ideal to serve peak loads.Output can be limited during SMOG days.
Conventional coalMainly used for base load, but can be used to serve peak loads.Output can be limited during SMOG days.
“Clean coal” with CO2 captureMainly used for base load, but can be used to serve peak loads. 
BiomassBiomass systems can change output somewhat, but are generally not as flexible as oil/gas systems.None, as long as there is a sufficient storage of biomass.
Energy recovery generationUsually used only for base load as applications normally run at a high capacity level providing little opportunity to increase output to serve peak loads.Depends on fluctuations of heat source.
Geothermal powerHigh capital cost requires continuous high output leaving little opportunity to increase output to serve peak loads.No variability
Wind powerReduces output of peaking plants when running, but requires backup power for periods of low production.Average seasonal capacity varies between 20 percent in the summer to 40 percent in the winter.
Solar PVHas a daylight hour base, thus mainly supplies peak consumption.There is less light in the winter, which reduces output.
Tidal powerOutput should be regular and predicted very accurately.None
Wave powerIntermittent (see wind power above)See comments on wind power.

Comparative Costs of Electricity Generation

The Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition estimated in 2002 that wind power costs range from 8 cents to 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour, exceeding the 2002 average actual wholesale prices of electricity in Canada by a cost premium of 1.2 to 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour depending on province. If costs for administration, distribution, marketing, etc. are included as well, the cost premium increases to 3.2 to 11.8 cents. For comparison, the following table presents comparative estimates of actual wholesale prices of electricity disaggregated by province.

ProvinceEstimated Average Cost per KWh for Base Power
Alberta3.5
Ontario4.0
Quebec3.4
Prince Edward Island6.9
Nova Scotia4.5
Newfoundland5.9
New Brunswick6.3
Manitoba3.8
British Columbia4.7
Saskatchewan2.5

The Canadian Electricity Association published a similar assessment in 2004, whereby it approximated wholesale costs for generating electricity in Canada using various technologies, and compared these to the current costs of producing electricity, which range from 4.7 cents per kilowatt hour in some provinces to more than 7 cents in others. It must be noted that these estimates are at best approximations and will vary from project to project. The following table presents the comparisons.

Approximate Wholesale Costs of Producing Electricity in New Projects*

Technology Used

Approximate Cost Range(cents per kilowatt hour)

Current Average Production Costs4.7 to7
  
New Projects  
New reservoirs5.5 to 12
Capacity increase in reservoir hydro2.5 to 4.5
Run-of-river hydro3.0 to no limit
Nuclear5.5 to 7.0
Natural gas6.0 to 7.5
Oil-fired generation7.0 to 13
Conventional coal5 to 6.5
“Clean coal” with CO2 capture5 to 6.5
Biomass5.5 to 18
Energy recovery generation7.0 to 9.0
Geothermal power6.5 to 9.5
Wind power6.0 to 14
Solar PV8.0 to 25 and more
Tidal power8.0 to 12
Wave power8.0 to 11.5

The Government of Canada's Wind Power Production Incentive offers a financial subsidy of one cent per kilowatt hour to suppliers of electricity generated through the use of wind power.

Other Experts/Resources

The Canadian Wind Energy Association

Wind Energy Institute of Canada

Ontario Sustainable Energy Association

Strategic Questions

  1. Will new technologies make wind power an economically viable alternative?

  2. Are provincial and/or federal subsidies necessary for the economical production of wind power?

  3. Should communities with available wind-strewn areas considerable power sharing agreements with provincial power authorities as part of long-term sustainability plans?

Resources and References

Major references for this case study include:

Canadian Electricity Association, Power Generation in Canada: A Guide.

Natural Resources Canada, Wind Energy Production Incentive.

Natural Resources Canada, Technologies and Applications.

Independent Electricity System Operator,  Your road map to Ontario Wholesale Electricity Prices   Canadian Wind Energy Association, How Wind Energy Works.

Canadian Hydro Developers Wolfe Island Wind Project.

City of Kingston, Local Wind Power.

Ontario Power Authority, Generation Development.

Queen’s Journal, Winds of change blowing on Wolfe Island.

Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition, Enhancing Sustainable Economic Development in Canada with Renewable Energy.

This comment has been submitted by Lane Giesbrecht as part of the ENVR545 course requirements.

I found this to be a very informative case study on the benefits and challenges associated with producing wind generated energy. As a resident of northern British Columbia I am very interested in the feasibility of using wind energy in conjunction with the existing hydro-electric projects as an alternative to the proposed Site “C” Clean Energy Project to meet the Provinces growing domestic energy needs. The Site “C” Clean Energy Project is an estimated 7.9 billion dollar hydro-electric dam on the Peace River of northeastern British Columbia with a projected annual capacity of 1,100 MW and a 350,000 ha flood zone (BC Hydro, 2013). According to the BC Sustainable Energy Society (2013), only 390MW of the provinces 43,000MW of electricity is currently being generated by wind power even though the Province has abundant wind resources. This puts British Columbia far behind the 2000MW of wind energy currently being produced in Ontario on an annual basis (BC Sustainable Energy Association, 2013).

One of the negative aspects of wind energy discussed in the case study was its intermittence and the need for back up energy during periods of low energy generation. By combining wind generated energy with the energy derived from existing hydro-electric sources in BC (such as the WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams) the problem of intermittent energy production could be alleviated and a constant source of energy could be obtained without the need for further dam construction and flooding along the Peace River. Technology could then be used to increase the efficiency of the process so that wind energy use would be maximized during periods of high wind energy production and hydro energy during periods of low wind energy production.

Although the costs associated with wind generated energy are generally higher than other energy sources these costs can be minimized by considering the savings to natural capital. For example, unlike hydroelectric projects, wind turbines do no result in the flooding and loss of agricultural land, recreational areas, forest ecosystems or fish and wildlife habitat. Furthermore, as stated in the case study, wind turbines do not emit GHG emissions during their operational stage which lessons pollution abatement costs when compared to other more GHG intensive energy production methods. As a result, it can be argued that wind generated energy is actually cheaper than other energy sources due to the resulting natural capital preservation and decreased pollution abatement costs.

I think that provincial and federal subsidies are necessary for the economic production of wind power. By subsidizing wind power the government bodies will be able to encourage the production of an energy source that does not result in the loss of natural capital or GHG emissions during its operational life. This will save the provincial and federal governments money on natural capital and pollution abatement costs, create jobs and position Canada in a more environmentally conscious global position.

I feel that the generation of wind energy in British Columbia is a clear step towards reducing British Columbia’s reliance on hydroelectric energy sources to meet the provinces growing energy demands without compromising its economic, social or environmental values.

References:

BC Sustainable Energy Association (2013). The Future of Wind Power in BC. Retrieved May 20,2013 from http://www.bcsea.org/blog/guy-dauncey/2013/03/22/future-of-wind-energy-…

BC Hydro (2013). Environmental Impact Statement. Retrieved May 20, 2013 from https://www.bchydro.com/energy-in-bc/projects/site_c/document_centre/st… reports.html