From the wind component production facilities located in the Gaspé peninsula to ridgeline development in the north, wind energy in Quebec seems to be everywhere. Adding to their ubiquity, spinning wind turbines can now be seen from downtown Montreal: Monteregie, a 100 MW wind farm located 20 km outside the city, is owned and operated by Kruger Energy and features 43 Enercon E82 wind turbines perched on 98-meter hybrid towers made of steel and concrete.
By the end of 2015, Quebec will reach 3.3 GW of installed wind capacity – a remarkable achievement considering it only began integrating large amounts of utility-scale wind power in the last decade.
Since eclipsing the 1 GW mark – becoming only the second province to surpass that milestone – Quebec has shown no signs of slowing down its wind farm construction.
The province has interconnected five wind farms – totaling 590.5 MW of capacity – since November 2012. Of that total, 380 MW was commissioned by EDF EN Canada, a subsidiary of EDF Energies Nouvelles.
The recent spate of wind projects coming online are the result of three previous calls for electricity from Hydro-Quebec, the government-run utility in charge of maintaining system reliability. In 2003, the utility issued a request for proposals (RFP) for more than 1 GW of wind-generated electricity. In 2005, Hydro-Quebec issued another RFP for 2 GW of wind power. Then, in 2010, it put out an RFP for 291.4 MW of installed capacity, primarily for community-based projects. The 2010 call required that projects be shared between wind developers and the communities, and that each project total no more than 25 MW.
However, for wind energy to sustain its momentum, the provincial government needs to continue its investment.
A cliff after 2015?
Although construction will likely remain vibrant in the near term, many wind industry advocates worry that development will come to a screeching halt after 2015, when the last of the wind farms approved under Quebec’s third RFP become grid connected. Industry proponents are hopeful that the government will act on a 700 MW RFP, which was issued in July 2012 by then-Premier Jean Charest.
Jean Frederick Legendre, the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s (CanWEA) Quebec regional policy director, explains that the RFP will serve as a temporary solution until the province unveils a long-term energy strategy. He expects that the RFP will be launched in two phases.
The first round, for 450 MW of installed capacity, is expected to be open to all wind energy developers, while the second round, for 250 MW, is designed to incent the further development of wind projects with involvement from First Nations.
However, Charest was defeated in the September 2012 election by Pauline Marois, and the change in leadership has led to considerable apprehension within Quebec’s wind industry.
“Action is needed soon,” states Marc-Antoine Renaud, who leads business development for Montreal-based turbine supplier Enercon. “To avoid a gap in production, the government needs to finalize the 700 MW [RFP] by the end of the first quarter.”
Because the government takes so long to approve permits, it can take more than three years to build and develop a wind farm in Quebec, Renaud notes. He estimates that the 700 MW RFP will be needed by September 2015, when the last turbine components associated with the RFP roll off the assembly lines.
Any interruption in development would be disastrous for the four wind energy component facilities located in the province’s Gaspé region, including Enercon’s tower production plant, located in Matane.
Although inaction and delay followed the government’s last call, there is reason for optimism, as Marois is a longtime wind energy supporter. When Marois ran for the Parti Quebecois leadership in 2005, her platform included a proposal for 10 GW of installed wind power capacity. In fact, Montreal-based developer Boralex constructed the second, third and fourth phases of the Seigneuries de Beaupré project in Marois’ home district.
Marois is familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Quebec’s often unwieldy wind development process, which has been known to test the patience of even the most prudent wind developers. The province’s approvals process can make wind development challenging, admits Jean Roy, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Kruger Energy.
Roy explains that all Quebec stakeholders get an opportunity to vet a wind farm – which can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, such scrutiny requires wind developers to adopt best practices – which often results in community support for wind projects. On the other hand, public hearings, which automatically follow environmental assessments, can be combative.
“A hearing can take two days or two weeks,” Roy says, adding that the Monteregie wind project’s layout changed 20 times due to residents’ concerns.
Just the same, wind developers like the fact that as long as they follow the established rules, wind development in the province is fairly predictable. However, when developers seek to enter municipalities that are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of wind development, “it can become a bit of a guessing game,” Roy says.
Given the billions of dollars invested in Quebec wind energy development to date, proponents such as Frédéric Côté – general manager of TechnoCentre éolien, a Quebec-based economic development and research nonprofit organization – are working with the provincial government to ensure that wind energy is well represented in future energy talks.
Given that 96% of Quebec’s energy needs are met by hydroelectricity, Côté and others will have a tough time convincing Hydro-Quebec to deviate from its pre-established formula, which calls for 100 MW of wind energy to be added to the grid for each gigawatt of generation created by hydroelectricity.
Add in gas-fired generation and renewable energy, and you quickly reach overgeneration. Furthermore, cheap natural-gas prices and low demand in potential export markets, such as the northern U.S., only compound Quebec’s wind energy problem.
“There are some in the government that are claiming we don’t need to act because of overgeneration,” says CanWEA’s Legendre, who points out that economic and political conditions can change rapidly, thus altering the situation.
“We don’t know where natural-gas prices could be in five years,” he says. “We need this RFP to sustain our supply chain. We need to make the government understand this is urgent.” w
Quebec Wind Market Remains Vibrant – For Now
By Mark Del Franco
Although the near-term outlook for the Quebec wind market remains bright, the provincial government needs to finalize an RFP that will serve as a bridge to its future.
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