Monday, January 30, 2012

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By Youness Elhariri
Québec Intern for the Great Lakes Commission

Towards a greater role for wind energy: Insights from Québec

Since 2006 and the publication of The Government of Québec’s Energy Strategy, a major shift occurred in the traditional place taken by wind energy in Québec. According to this new orientation, wind power will not be a marginal power source anymore. Indeed, the province has now a goal of 4,000 MW of installed capacity by 2015 and all the indicators seem to confirm that this target will be reached. Knowing that the average power capacity of Québec is 38,000 MW, we are now talking about more than 10% of the province’s energy coming from wind power. We have long surpassed the 200 MW projects of the 1990s and this fast progression, in less than two decades, is obviously a step in the right direction.

In the coming years, after exceeding this symbolic cap of the 10%, the transition toward a more wind power-friendly province will be easier to make, both on the political and technical level. That’s why a lot of specialists and professors in the field of energy are putting forward the idea that Québec could reach 12,000 MW of wind power capacity by 2025.

It is true that Québec’s context cannot be transposed everywhere in North America (in terms of geographical position, available wind resources, acreage, etc.). However, it can be an interesting scenario to examine for the Great Lakes states that also have significant wind power potential.

That said, environmental issues will always be a key factor when considering bringing more wind power on the grid. However, the goal of Québec using wind to produce more than 20% of its energy by 2025 is driven by three other important factors: energetic independence and security, economic benefits and technical possibilities.

Energetic independence and security  

In 2005, a “National Assembly on Energy and Security and the Future for Québec” took place followed a year later by The Government of Québec’s Energy Strategy. The first objective of the latter is that Québec must strengthen its energy supply security. In other words, Québec wants to make sure that in the not-to-distant future, it will never depend on foreign suppliers to provide its energy.

If it is successful in accomplishing this objective, Québec will be able to avoid a supplementary source of uncertainty in terms of economic growth: energy price volatility. Indeed, being able to produce its energy on its own territory gives the Government of Québec the luxury to provide to its citizens and economy the necessary amount of power with affordable and stables prices. This energy supply security will be reached not only by increasing the hydro electrical capabilities of the province but also by the increasingly more important role of wind power and other alternative sources of energy. It is in that mind set that Québec decided to give Hydro-Québec (Youness, put in parentheses here a short clause about what Hydro Quebec is, such as the province’s main energy supplier or something like that) the mandate to produce wind power more widely.

Economic benefits     

The other reason explaining this increased importance of wind power to Québec is its economic benefits. According to the Québec Energy Strategy 2005-2015, published by the Government of Québec, reaching 4,000 MW of wind power capacity by 2015 will generate investments of 4.9 billion in Canadian dollars. Additionally, special requirements calling for locally produced Québec content are being implemented. In fact, a minimum of 60% of the content necessary for the production of 4,000 MW of wind power must be made in Québec. Further, special attention is given to two specific regions: the Gaspésie-Iles-de-la-Madeline region and Matane, two distant areas of the province that face problems of depopulation, exodus of the youth, unemployment, and other economic issues. For these two communities, the wind industry is more than welcome. Since it is there that most of the wind farms will be established, it is necessary to involve their people in the entire process, including employment in the supply chain, rather than simply accepting the wind farms on their landscape. Also, this new industry creates an environment favorable for developing local knowledge, expertise and a market niche for wind turbine companies, even becoming competitive at the international level. Case in point, the newspaper La Presse published an article this past fall about Eocycle Technologies, a small enterprise from Gaspésie that has manufactured wind turbines since year 2003. Last year, Eocycle Technologies exported its first wind turbine to Ohio. The firm now plans to build 20 turbines per year until 2015, then 100 turbines per year thereafater, all aimed at the North American market.

This forecasted growth is really encouraging for Québec’s economy, in particular for the two regions of Matane and Gaspésie-Iles-de-la-Madeline. It is even brighter if we consider the planned progression from 4,000 MW in 2015 to 12,000 MW in 2025. Following this path will require approximately $25 billion in Canadian investments with at least $15 billion spent in Québec. Also, according to the “local content” agreements now in place described above, this activity will consist of more than $1.4 billion in economic contributions to regional stakeholders (landowners, municipalities, etc.) over a period of 20 years. Likewise, jobs will also be part of this emerging economic growth. During the construction of wind farms, more than 9,800 jobs will be created and 2,000 jobs will stay permanently in these regions (approximately 800 manufacturing jobs and 1,200 operations and maintenance jobs).   

Technical possibilities

Achieving the 12,000 MW capacity will be easier for the province of Québec following 2015, knowing that the first step, the 4,000 MW capacity, will already be accomplished. Heretofore, the province has worked intensively on the implementation of wind power facilities and on building the associated infrastructure. Now that this is done, though investments are still needed, it’s now possible to take advantage of economies of scale and lower marginal costs. Many of these investments will interconnect new wind farms to the already existing transmission system. Gaëtan Lafrance, Ph. D in Engineering, Professor and Associate Member at Laval University, and Honorary Professor at INSR (Institut national de recherche scientifique), explains how it is possible to build these new interconnections and why it will be profitable for the Government of Québec. (See

In conclusion, the path to a greater role for wind power sometimes seems full of pitfalls, but the Québec example is another reminder that investing in wind power can be profitable for many and especially for local communities that benefit from jobs and associated economic impacts.

By Youness Elhariri
Québec Intern for the Great Lakes Commission


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