Hicks on Biz: Alberta doesn't need wind farms by GRAHAM HICKS, first published EDMONTON SUN March 9, 2018
By GRAHAM HICKS
I have been to a wind farm, watched the blades on 80-metre-tall wind turbines turn lazily in the late-February sun.
In a very gentle 5.4 km/h wind, 16 megawatts (MW) of electricity were being generated — wind converted to electricity at each tower, fed through underground cables to a substation, then fed into the provincial power grid.
In that lazy wind at Capital Power’s Halkirk Wind Farm about 30 kilometres east of Stettler, 83 towers each generated 230 kilowatts (kW) of power ‑ enough to perhaps power my neighbourhood at that very moment.
Halkirk is impressive — the 83 wind turbines scattered across 60 square kilometres of working farmland are so quiet (at least in low winds), so grey, so clean against the blue sky — dotting the landscape around the village of Halkirk like ghostly sentinels.
The technology and know-how are all imported. The global wind-farm company Vestas Wind Systems, headquartered in Denmark, manufactures, assembles, maintains and now operates the Halkirk wind farm on behalf of Capital Power.
There’s no Canadian technology here, no Canadian manufacturing, no Canadian brains at work. The turbines were built at Vestas’ plant in Colorado.
The operation is seamlessly automated — sensors adjust the turbine blades in real time to maximize the efficiency of extracting energy from wind. The entire on-site Halkirk operation is run by eight technicians and three managers. Sensors can detect the presence of flocks of birds or bats. The turbines will automatically brake to a stop, (just as they shut down when winds are too strong) until the birds/bats pass.
When the wind is blowing, wind turbines are fine — operationally, they are now cost-competitive with state-of-the-art coal and gas-fired generating plants.
When the wind is blowing: Until the battery industry can competitively produce megawatt storage, wind turbines produce no power, nada, nothing, when becalmed.
In gross generalities, wind power from 37 wind farms currently provide nine pe cent of Alberta’s electricity needs — when the wind blows.
But when there’s no wind, those rotten, horrible, pollution-spewing, fossil-fuel burning electricity plants must be able to power up to meet the heating, cooling and all other energy needs of Alberta industry and residents.
Here’s the thing.
Start with this premise: Who cares what the source of our electricity is — wind, solar, hydro, coal, gas, cow manure — if that source, or mix of sources, meets the HIGHEST OF ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS AT THE CHEAPEST OF COSTS!!!
Canada’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement is to cut our greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels, by 2030.
In 2005, about 75 per cent of Alberta’s electricity came from coal plants without current environmental controls.
Natural gas releases 60 per cent less pollution and greenhouse gases than does untreated coal. And today’s new, state-of-the-art coal-fired electricity plants — like the seven-year-old Keephills 3 power plant — also release 60 per cent less pollution and greenhouse gases than they did in 2005.
By upgrading technology at modern coal plants, and/or converting coal plants to natural gas, Alberta can more than do its part to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitment!
There’s no need for imported wind turbines, no need for massive solar farms, no need for the billions being spent by the Notley government to act on its ill-conceived notion that all fossil fuels are bad (unless exported elsewhere).
There’s a desperate need for Alberta not to be so caught up in such environmental fads.
There’s a desperate need for this province to champion natural gas and cleaned-up coal as practical solutions to global climate change!
This is Alberta’s rightful place in the new environmental order — using our expertise, our immense natural resources (there’s enough economically retrievable natural gas under our soil to last for centuries), our own processing, our own manufacturing and our own workers, to champion the greening of coal, natural gas and oil as SOLUTIONS to lowering CO2 emissions world-wide.
No Alberta utility company publicly so advocates. Their job is to earn a return for shareholders within existing and future environmental regulations and government whim. If the politicians want wind farms, the utility companies will build wind farms — or have foreigners do it for them — as long as increased costs can be passed on to the end-user.
But in private, off-the-record conversations, most utility executives agree whole-heartedly with the logic of the argument presented above.
Wind farms are sexy. But Alberta already has an obvious, cheaper, made-in-Alberta solution with a ton of benefits for this province, that nobody in the current provincial, federal or even municipal governments wants to hear.
My only hope is for a Jason Kenney-led change in Alberta’s government in 2019. Kenney has shown himself to be a common-sense leader who understands that Alberta’s carbon-based resources and environmental responsibility are not only compatible, but crucial to the economic well-being of this province.