News was mixed today, depending on which way the wind blew. In the United States, the American Wind Energy Association announced the “exciting” news that a record 8,358 megawatts of wind capacity had been installed across the United States in 2008. Assuming an average capacity factor of 33 per cent, that’s roughly 2,800 megawatts of reliable power generation built in a single year. And how many nukes have been built? Zilch. When will the first new nuke plant in North America likely become operational? Oh, say, 2018? A lot of wind can be deployed in those intervening nine years. But I digress. AWEA said the wind industry in 2008 channelled $17 billion in new investments into the U.S. economy, and represented 42 per cent of newly installed power-generation capacity — most of the rest coming from natural gas. In all, the wind industry spurred the creation of 35,000 jobs last year.
Here’s the current ranking of U.S. states, based on total installed capacity: Texas (7,116 MW), Iowa (2,790 MW), California (2,517 MW), Minnesota (1,752 MW), and Washington (1,375 MW).
AWEA cautioned that 2009 could be a rough year, but who are we kidding? Early indications show that incentives from a new U.S. stimulus package will keep the strong winds blowing into this year and beyond. The challenge will be in passing the necessary legislation as quickly as possible to avoid extended lulls in a credit-challenged market.
Now, in Canada, our federal government just announced today our own “stimulus” budget and I’m disappointed to report that the Conservatives just don’t get it. The current production incentive for renewables is 1 cent per kilowatt-hour produced over 10 years. The program has been quite successful — perhaps too successful — because all the monies will have been allocated by the end of March, two years early.
Industry groups were calling for an expansion and extension to 2014, which would have supported deployment of an additional 8,000 megawatts. Of course, an extension would have also provided much certainty for wind developers and their investors during turbulent economic times. That uncertainty is, well, gone. Instead of building on success, the federal government is simply letting the market go from boom to bust.
“Our ability to compete with the United States for investment in wind energy projects and manufacturing opportunities will decline as a result of this budget,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, in a statement. “At a time when the United States has made measures to support renewable energy deployment a key component of its plans to stimulate the U.S. economy, Canada is moving in the opposite direction.”
On top of the 1-cent incentive, where are the loan guarantees for large-scale renewable projects to help ease the credit crunch? Where’s the announcement of a green bond that could raise low-cost capital for renewable projects? Again — zilch.
The irony, as CanWEA pointed out, is that the federal government gave a Throne Speech just before Christmas committing Canada to getting 90 per cent of its electricity from “non-emitting” sources by 2020. Today’s sidestepping of renewables makes the Conservatives’ intentions clear: non-emitting sources will come from nuclear and “clean coal,” even though neither will be built within the next nine or 10 years.
No wonder Canada refuses to join the newly created International Renewable Energy Agency.
At this point, it will take a push by individual provinces to make up for this federal neglect. Fortunately, Ontario appears to be doing a good job in this regard. Last week it awarded long-term power purchase agreements for five new wind-farm projects totalling nearly 500 megawatts. A Green Energy Act is on its way, and we’re starting to see a ramp-up in green-collar job training. The news was buried, but last Friday Premier Dalton McGuinty attended St. Lawrence College a couple hours east of Toronto to announce the province’s first wind-turbine technician program, which will begin this year. It was a small announcement, but the fact that McGuinty attended it personally may hint at intentions.