One has to admire the business and political skills of the wind turbine industry if the endless march of steel towers across prominent ridges in southern Alberta is any indication. Their powerful lobby has browbeaten any critics and has governments at every level bowing at their feet. It seems politicians can’t offer subsidies, tariff incentives, grants, tax breaks and zoning allowances fast enough to the wind turbine barons. Even the usually vociferous green lobby groups won’t touch this politically correct monster; no matter the continuous deaths of thousands of birds and bats from wind turbine collisions, no matter the noise and visual pollution, and no matter the outrageous costs to taxpayers and consumers.
Interestingly, there are some folks who ignore the politics and see economic opportunity. Lethbridge College has created a world-class education facility that trains students in the maintenance of wind turbines. It’s so successful that it has students attending from around the world. College officials are aware of the questions surrounding the economic viability of wind turbines, but have the business smarts to grab hold of the goose that lays the golden egg. The same for economic development officials in the Lethbridge area, they see wind turbines as an opportunity to increase investment in research, servicing, supplies, manufacturing and construction.
One can also not begrudge the financial opportunity for landowners. Land rents, access fees and servicing deals are most welcome income to hard-pressed farmers and ranchers. Its similar to well site deals with energy companies, minus the surface rights problems. You can’t blame counties and municipalities for being enthusiastic about more wind turbine operations. They get a bigger tax base with very little additional servicing costs.
However, one does wonder what the wind turbine saturation point is in southern Alberta. The size and scale of wind turbines and their land base just continues to get larger. Promoters are stating that the industry will need an additional 80,000 acres to set up new operations. If one extrapolates the small footprint of a wind turbine tower, that land need could mean thousands of additional wind turbines. Questions are also beginning to arise as to who this new wind power is all for; its starting to seem that its not for Albertans.
A recent announcement will see a massive wind turbine project in southern Alberta financed by American investment funds with all the output pre-sold to a California power company. Its one of those curious arrangements that will see the new wind power fed into the B.C. grid, where it disappears and may or may not reach California. However that state gets to claim the reduced emission credits. One hopes no Canadian tax subsidies or dubious development grants are involved, but that has become a murky area as governments rush to get involved in attracting trendy renewable energy business.
That situation has become a reality in Ontario, which has become the new mecca for more wind turbine operations. The Ontario government has implemented a tax and tariff incentive program that’s a gold mine for the wind turbine industry. Its so lucrative that Ontario has already leaped ahead of Alberta in new wind turbine capacity being developed. This has caused the inevitable, where developers have begun to exploit government programs rather than economic reality (which has yet to become positive for wind power). That is now seeing wind turbine operations being built in areas where the available wind resources are borderline at best. That could see the 30 per cent average out put level of wind turbines drop even lower.
The only bright light is that wind turbine research is seeing the development of smaller highly efficient equipment that can be used to generate power on farms and ranches. But, all of this new wind power big and small, creates problems for the electricity grid which was never designed to absorb sudden and intermittent sources of power. That has now put the Alberta government in the position of having to find ways to expand the grid to service the increasing wind energy industry, and you guessed it, that will be at taxpayer and consumer expense.
That has seen the Alberta government using legislation to force the issue, which resulted in a political backlash that is plaguing the present government, much to their chagrin. After all wasn’t wind energy supposed to lead to a happy green utopia? It seems the government is learning once again – what you sow you will reap.
What is desperately needed is a formal third-party cost/benefit analysis of the value of wind power to Alberta. It needs to be all encompassing, including exposing all the tax breaks and tariff incentives, the environmental damage, the secretive connections between developers, transmission lines, wind turbine manufacturers etc. It also needs to be made clear where Alberta generated wind power actually goes. Stories abound that most of it is sold to B.C. at a discount, whilst green-conscious consumers here pay a premium to buy wind power. An honest study on the whole wind power industry would be most welcome, especially for taxpayers and consumers.
Onedoeswonderwhatthewind turbinesaturationpointwillbe insouthernAlberta.