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Right now a cap allows for 900 megawatts to be pumped into the provincial electricity grid. Investors are poised to put 3,000 megawatts in.
John McDonald/the Gauntlet

Wind power increase gusts in

The Alberta Energy System Operator is set to abolish cap by end of the year

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Despite an off-hand remark by Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight in the Calgary Herald on Mon., Jul. 30, the cap on wind power will be abolished by December.

"It will be eliminated by the end of the year," said Alberta Energy System Operator manager of communications and stakeholder relations Ally Sutherland. "That's what we've committed to publicly and that's what we're doing."

The AESO is a non-profit agency with a mandate from the provincial government to provide electricity to Albertans.

"I think it's just one of those cases where he was being interviewed and a number of other subjects and he just kind of threw that out there," said Sutherland. "I'm not saying he was inaccurate. but he respects and is truly aligned with our position of removing the cap by the end of the year. It's no conflict here."

The AESO has been consulting with stakeholders for quite some time about market rules that are not necessary to put in place in order to remove the threshold. A lot of work was done behind the scenes including a yearlong forecasting study and setting up extra services to back up wind power, she explained.

"Increasing the cap to 1,500 megawatts--as the minister was quoted saying--is not a policy that he has implemented," said Alberta Department of Energy spokesperson Tammy Forbes. "The minister was speculating. He is very supportive of having more wind on the grid."

Forbes noted that adding wind power to the grid must be done in a responsible manner with the overall reliability of the system in mind.

"[Windpower is a] clean and free source of energy but the disadvantage is that we never know exactly how much power we can get out of this system at a particular time," said University of Calgary professor Dr. H. Zareipour. "It is not very easy to integrate it in a traditional power system."

The main challenge in electric energy is that the supply and the demand have to be in balance at every particular moment. Because you can't store electric energy, supply and demand always have to be perfectly aligned, he explained. It is difficult to ramp up other types of generators on short notice when there are inaccuracies with the prediction of wind power.

Power generation is an extensive industry, with the need for large amounts of money to be invested in order to have reliable power system for the future. Zareipour stressed that the integration of wind power into traditional systems is an enormous area of research.

President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association Robert Hornung asserted that investors are poised and ready to come into the market that now allows only 900 megawatts of wind power into the system.

"The removal of the cap would certainly send a clear signal to investors who have already proposed more than 3,000 megawatts of wind energy development in Alberta that Alberta is open for business," he said.

Alberta has tremendous economic opportunities in terms of wind energy. Hornung explained that companies, including Sun-cor and Ep-cor, have begun building wind energy projects in Ontario and other parts of the country because they are not limited by a cap. Hornung also stressed the environmental benefits of wind energy that address issues like climate change.

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