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Wind power an unreliable source, M.D. council hears

Posted on August 27, 2015 by Vauxhall Advance

By J.W. Schnarr
Vauxhall Advance

One culprit responsible for the rising cost of electricity transmission comes from wind power generation, Municipal District of Taber council heard recently.

On Aug. 11, council discussed a letter from an informal group of Lethbridge-area citizens with a special interest in federal, provincial, and municipal energy policies.

The letter referred to a story about the rising cost of energy transmission and the hardships faced by farmers and rural businesses that use large amounts of electricity.

Reeve Brian Brewin said the story and discussions had garnered a lot of local interest.

“This is an issue that’s gaining momentum,” he said.

The letter highlights the fact that wind projects have cost upwards of $5 billion, with $2 billion paid for by Albertans for under-used transmission dedicated to wind.

Division 5 Coun. Bob Wallace said he found it interesting that some green power, such as wind energy, needs to be backed up by natural gas, duplicating transmission to do the same job.

“We can not rely on when the wind blows,” said Brewin.

“So where’s the savings?” asked Deputy Reeve Dwight Tolton.

“I don’t believe there is any,” replied Wallace.

Clive Schaupmeyer is an agrologist from Coaldale who used to work in the potato industry, and is also one of the area residents who sent the letter.

He said his group is concerned with how green energy projects are being championed when their usefulness is not being better scrutinized.

“We really need an Alberta or Canadian energy policy that’s realistic and workable, and affordable,” said Schaupmeyer.

“Unlike some of the train wrecks we’re starting to see now in western Europe.”

According to Alberta Electrical System Operator reports, wind power has only been intermittently useful, as the amount of power generated can vary greatly depending on existing weather patterns.

Wind generation is only used at 32 per cent of its theoretical capacity, and sometimes slips below the five per cent threshold (considered to be zero output). As the power grid needs to have a stable amount of energy running through it in order to avoid brownouts, wind-generated power is often backed up by natural gas and coal, which are both considered more stable energy sources.

When the wind picks up, however, it is cleaner-burning natural gas that is scaled back, and not coal – ironic, as a major goal of wind power is providing a cleaner power source.

Schaupmeyer said there is simply no way to use wind power effectively for power, as current technology is unable to cope with the peaks and valleys of wind energy production.

“It’s totally unpredictable, and totally unreliable,” he said. “And often spiking near zero.”

“Our society simply cannot exist on a power supply that is so unreliable,” the letter indicated. “Yet the province is promoting more ineffective and erratic wind power, and you can expect costs to continue to rise.”

Brewin said the wind projects in the area are more of a feel-good exercise for urban municipalities that come with a hefty price tag.

“The irony is that the city of Calgary puts up wind farms in the M.D. of Taber, to make them feel good about green power,” said Brewin.

“But we still have to pay for the transmission back to Calgary.”

Following discussion, council accepted the letter for information and asked the group to come to a future Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties meeting in January, in order to speak with municipal representatives and MLAs directly.

“It’s a hot issue right now,” said Brewin.

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