Wind power is one of the fastest growing forms of energy

It currently supplies about 1.1 per cent of Canada’s electricity demand, with 99 wind farms representing approximately 3,249MW of generating capacity. Wind power also helps to create new jobs for Canadians, encourages innovations and helps to offset emissions from fossil fuels. Supplying just over one percent of Canada’s electricity, wind energy powers over one million homes, and has great potential for growth. Countries like Denmark get over 20 per cent of their electricity from wind, and if Canada were to do the same, it would translate into enough energy to power 17 million homes. The Canadian Wind Energy Association has outlined a future strategy for wind energy that would reach a capacity of 55,000 MW by 2025, meeting the goal of 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs. With oil prices skyrocketing to record highs, it seems clear that Canadians are going to have to look at alternative energy resources and while this phenomenon is creating great concern around the world, it is also an ideal time for wind energy producers to turn this period of instability into an opportunity.

The growth of wind power all over the world is another indicator that this source of energy is becoming more popular, and in 2009, around the world, more than 37,000 MW of new wind farms were built. Data unveiled by the Global Wind Energy Council showed that Canada’s 950 megawatts of new wind turbines that were hooked up in 2009 to the electrical grid placed it ninth overall among wind power producing nations. China was the busiest at adding new capacity, with a massive 13,000 MW built, more than doubling its existing base of wind power production. The United States came second with 9,900 MW of new capacity, and Spain was third with 2,460 MW.  According to Steve Sawyer, the Brussels based wind-council’s security-general, “the continued rapid growth of wind power, despite the financial crisis and economic downturn, is testament to the inherent attractiveness of the technology, which is clean, reliable and quick to install”.

We’ve seen something like this happen before. High oil prices in the seventies also inspired innovations in the energy sector and developers and engineers started developing solar powered cells, auto dealers imported more fuel-efficient cars while manufacturers eliminated many gas guzzlers from their product lines. Most importantly, governments started legislating fuel efficiency standards, and this created an opportunity for more efficient methods of technology. Wind energy does appear to be here to stay. Ontario, Canada’s industrial heartland and most populated province, is starting to make inroads with renewable energy producers. This bodes well for other provinces that are starting to incorporate legislation that allow for more green energies like wind power.

Although most early development for wind power in Canada was located primarily in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, since the late 1990’s every province has pursued wind power at some point to supplement their provincial energy grids. With the first commercial wind farm built in Alberta in 1993, the most recent province to add wind power to its energy grid was B.C. in 2009 with the completion of the Bear Mountain Wind Park. Owned by Bear Mountain Wind LP, the farm began operations in November 2009. BC’s first operating wind farm has a generating capacity of 102 megawatts. Almost all the provinces currently have some wind power projects underway and Manitoba is planning to build the largest wind farm in Canada, to be located in the southern part of the province.

In Ontario, the amount of electricity generated by wind has increased from 15 megawatts in 2003 to 1,100 megawatts in 2009, enough electricity to supply the needs of 300,000 homes. The province is at the forefront of wind energy in Canada, with more than 2,600 MW of wind generation capacity expected to be in service by the end of 2011. Despite this, the Ontario government decided in early February 2011 to pause off shore wind energy developments. The McGuinty government announced that it would stop all offshore wind projects until further scientific research is conducted into its environmental impact. The unexpected decision drew praise from opponents of wind turbines, but disappointment from environmentalists and businesses that support the renewable power, including The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).  “Ontario is proving itself a leader in driving a new clean energy future that delivers emission free power and new jobs for our skilled trade workers,” said CanWEA president Robert Hornung.  “This is an unfortunate decision that surrenders the province’s leadership role in exploring the potential for offshore wind energy in the Great lakes and creates significant uncertainty for investors.” Many companies and groups are responding to the decision with a mixture of shock and disappointment, especially since the government had steadfastly supported its Green Energy Act since its introduction, and there is now increased risk that other changes might be made down the line. Robert Hornung added that “as a responsible industry that promotes sustainable development practices, we look forward to working with the government to understand their proposed timelines and scope of research into the application of offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes and we ultimately believe there is great potential for offshore wind energy to provide clean energy and new jobs in Ontario. We are encouraged, however, to see the government’s continued commitment to its Long-Term Energy Plan, which includes significant growth in wind energy production in Ontario.”

With wind power spreading all over the country, public opinion seems to be mostly in support of the alternative energy source.  According to a survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies in October 2007, 89 percent of respondents said that using renewable energy sources like wind or solar power was positive for Canada, because these sources were better for the environment.  Only four per cent considered using renewable sources as negative since they can be unreliable and expensive. According to a Saint Consulting survey conducted in April 2007, wind power was the alternative energy source most likely to gain public support for future development in Canada, with only 16 per cent opposed to this type of energy. By contrast, 3 out of 4 Canadians opposed nuclear power developments.  Despite this general support for the concept of wind power in the public at large, local opposition often exists, with some concerns from residents including a perceived eyesore”, noise levels, or reduced property values. There are also some environmental concerns that have come up in the discussion on wind power, including the disturbance of bird’s migratory patterns. According to David Suzuki, “just as with every kind of new technology, wind turbines must be applied with care.  Thorough environmental assessments must take into account bird flight paths, and zoning processes must take into consideration issues that might be raised by host communities.  Just as solar panels graduated from powering small items such as digital watches and calculators to being incorporated into large-scale, energy-efficient projects, I am confident that wind turbines will also reach a critical mass. As I cross the country and talk to people, I hear about more and more wind turbines dotting the landscapes.”

In 2008, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) outlined a future strategy for wind energy that would reach a capacity of 55,000 MW by 2025, fulfilling 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs. The plan, Wind Vision 2025, could create over 50,000 jobs and represent around CDN $165 million annual revenue.  If achieved, CanWEA’s target would make the  country a major player in the wind power sector and would create around CDN $79 billion of investment. It would also save an estimated 17-megatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.  According to CanWEA, Canada can get 20 per cent of its electricity – 55,000 MW – from wind by 2025, by putting up 22,000 wind turbines spread over about 450 locations across Canada. All told, the wind farms needed would occupy a land area of about 5,500 square kilometers, or about the size of Prince Edward Island. Can-WEA believes this will take a very concentrated effort, but it compares the effort to developing Canada’s electricity ‘oil sands’. According to CanWEA, “at $132 billion, costs will be similar, but Canada’s wind power pioneers will enjoy some advantages which their counterparts in Fort McMurray would have envied. For starters, wind technology is already well advanced and understood and price-wise, wind power is becoming more and more cost-competitive. The business and environmental cases for wind power are very solid, so there is no reason to believe that WindVision 2025 is unattainable.”

A typical wind turbine is made up of about 8,000 separate parts – from electronics to heavy metal components. The wind energy supply chain is extremely broad and diverse and holds enormous opportunities for Canadian manufacturers. Canada is already producing wind turbine towers, blades, and nacelle covers and we have the skills, the plants and equipment to produce an even broader range of components.  Today, approximately half of the value of a wind turbine has the potential to be readily produced on a large scale in Canada. Given the pressure on our traditional manufacturing base, this represents a significant opportunity for diversification and renewal. Recent studies estimate that public and private investors around the world will pump between $800 billion and $1 trillion into wind power from 2008 to 2020. Can- WEA believes that with a $132 billion price tag, if governments send a clear signal that WindVision 2025 is a national priority for Canada, the private sector will respond, and at least 60 percent of the total, some $79 billion, can flow to the bottom line of Canadian equipment manufacturers, construction and engineering firms and other suppliers in all regions of the country. The benefits would also be great in terms of employment opportunities for Canadians. Installing the 55,000 MW called for in CanWEA’s WindVision 2025 would mean at least 52,000 new, “green collar jobs” for Canada in 2025. Approximately half of these would be high quality manufacturing jobs and a third would relate to operation and servicing. According to CanWEA, if industry and government work together to establish a versatile

wind turbine and component manufacturing capacity in Canada, the employment outlook would be even brighter. Additionally, these estimates are only for the Canadian market and with world wide investment in wind power expected to top $1.8 trillion by 2025, export markets could mean tens of thousands of additional jobs for Canadian workers. By 2020, the Worldwatch Institute predicts there will be two million jobs worldwide in the wind power industry.

According to CanWEA, “now is the time to ramp up our investment in wind energy manufacturing.” Recent rapid growth in global wind energy demand has led to significant bottlenecks in the supply of many key components for wind turbines. This is even causing many wind energy project developers to delay projects for up to two years because of difficulty in securing turbines. As a result, turbine manufacturers are adding new capacity and with the right incentives, manufacturers will add this capacity in Canada. As in any global industry, investment will gravitate to countries that offer the highest returns.  Traditional factors such as cost of capital, the supply of skills, raw materials and components and access to markets will all come into play as companies decide where to locate their facilities. However, governments that offer subsidies, tax rebates and other incentives to lower production costs serve as a magnet for investment. This is certainly the case in wind energy equipment manufacturing where governments around the world have recognized that hundreds of billions of dollars in equipment sales and as many as two million high quality jobs are up for grabs over the next two decades.

Whether we like it or not, our ability to grow the Canadian wind equipment manufacturing sector will depend to a considerable extent on how attractive Canada’s investment climate is relative to other countries – and many other countries are using incentives to influence this decision.  Canada’s main competition is the United States, where manufacturers invested more than $1 billion in 2007 and the first part of 2008 to build or expand 41 wind turbine manufacturing facilities, creating 9,000 high quality jobs. Part of the reason Canadian electricity suppliers are having trouble keeping up with demand is that new projects must go through permits and approvals processes related to municipal zoning, environmental assessment, and integration with the electricity system.  While such processes are important, Can-WEA explains that the current system doesn’t work very well and is often confusing or unclear, and there is also a lack of dedicated government resources. Currently, there are simply not enough people working on approvals and permits, at all levels, to handle the interest in new wind energy development across Canada.

It’s a good time to be in the wind turbine business or to supply components to the major producers. Manufacturers are now rapidly making investments in new plants in an effort to get supply to catch up with demand. Over the next 12 years, it is projected that over $1 trillion will be invested in new wind energy projects as an additional 400,000 + MW is added to global wind energy capacity. At this time, Canada is barely visible in the world market in terms of wind turbine manufacturing, particularly for large turbines and components. In terms of installed wind energy capacity, Canada sits in 11th place globally and most of the components for the wind farms built here have come from suppliers in the United States or Europe. However, over the long run, there is no reason to believe that the relationship we see in many other countries like Denmark and Spain, between local installing capacity and growth in the local manufacturing base will not hold true for Canada. The pattern is already starting to emerge with the opening of three component-manufacturing plants since 2006 in Quebec’s Gaspé region, in the wake of Hydro Quebec’s tender for 1000MW of wind power which called for 60 per cent local content. These plants, which build turbine towers, blades and nacelle covers, now employ several hundred people and are starting to export to other regions of the province, to Ontario and the United States.  Canada also has tower-manufacturing facilities in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

According to CanWEA, currently Canadian wind projects depend almost exclusively on European and US suppliers for turbines and key components, however we have an opportunity to change this, as the pace of wind farm construction picks up. Canada has the skills and industrial capacity to serve this rapidly growing market, but Canadian companies are going to have to get more aggressive to seize these opportunities. Using experience in other countries as a guide, multinational turbine manufacturers will procure many parts from local suppliers when price and quality are competitive.  To attract investment, Canadian firms must also be open to licensing, joint ventures and sub-contracting arrangements.

For the past five years, Westburne has been involved in important wind farm projects totalizing over 1 000 MW of renewable energy. Westburne’s experienced team has distinguished itself and is now recognized as the benchmark in the Quebec wind industry for the supply of electrical material and equipment. This division of Westburne is headed up by Matthieu Crevier, Business Development Manager, Strategic Account and Engineering. ■

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