Thursday, 8 September 2016

Wind Power and Wind Bags

Wind Power and Wind Bags

By: Ryan Young

I am sure that I am not the only one who found it curious to hear our eminent sage and wind bag, Dwight Ball, talking up our renewable energy potential at the annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers held last week in Boston. While Ball continued to blow the same regurgitated hot air about Muskrat Falls as a source of renewable energy that we have been hearing year after year, from at least five different premiers, he surprised many by pointing to our wind energy resources as a possible source of green power for energy hungry New England states.

It seems that after half a decade of being told that Muskrat Falls power was simply too expensive for the American markets, that somebody in government finally got the memo. Labrador hydro will never light the lamps of Boston, and everyone and their dog knows it. But still it was crunch time, and Ball was given the difficult task of making the case to the governors that everything is not arse-up in Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter what they might have been briefed. It must have become apparent at some point that the governors were simply not interested in talking about Muskrat Falls anymore so our government had to take a new line of talking points into the meetings to try to paint a positive picture of what we have on offer here at home.

I’d really like to believe that this government is interested in moving the province towards green energy generation. The American markets certainly want green energy but they also want it to be cheap. The only chance we have of developing our offshore wind energy is if we can develop it and transport it to the American market at a profitable price point. We certainly have the potential to generate the power, but can we sell it?

The biggest knock against wind energy in NL is that power is not always produced when it is needed and that we would still need a way to supply power to customers at times when production is low and demand is high. With Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Link, that problem will be eliminated and wind will become a viable option. The problem then becomes having more energy than we need. That would mean that we would need to strike a new deal with Emera to export wind power across the link to markets further south. Then we run into an issue of capacity. With Emera already taking up a third of the capacity of the 500MW link from their Muskrat Falls block, can we even sell enough power to make it worth investing in the development of wind technologies? This is certainly something that would be worth crunching the numbers on before heading into a meeting and pretending that we have all the answers.

One of the major selling points of Muskrat Falls was that it was supposed to be a cheaper alternative than wind. The independent studies by Hatch and Manitoba Hydro both weighed Muskrat Falls against an isolated island option that would require upgrading the thermal generating capacity at Holyrood. Neither considered the option of building a link to Nova Scotia (or another partner) to facilitate a two-way exchange of power to utilize our wind resources. The numbers that Nalcor presented based on the independent studies were not necessarily all wrong. They just didn’t paint the full picture of what other options were available. The desire to sanction Muskrat Falls seemed to override the need for a slow and measurable decision making process when it came to weighing other options.

 When you consider that a local company, Beothuk Energy, is currently developing a 1000MW wind farm off the coast of Nova Scotia that will supply power to New England via a 200km subsea link, it makes you wonder why a similar option was never considered to be weighed against Muskrat Falls. Nalcor tells us that our maximum reliable capacity for wind generation in the province is around 300MW, but in fact, Beothuk is currently constructing another, smaller, wind farm that will be based in Bay St. George on the west coast of the island. That project will produce 180MW alone, making the 300MW number offered by Nalcor seem quite small.  With Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Link in place we will be able to produce as much wind energy as we want. Can we produce it cheaply? Beothuk Energy certainly thinks so and is working hard to prove their point. But with likely $15 Billion we will have sunk into Muskrat Falls by the time it is finished, will we be able to justify investing in producing even more energy that we can’t use?

I’m certainly not suggesting that we should abandon all of our offshore wind potential because of Muskrat Falls, but sanctioning another multi-billion-dollar mega-project to produce power will be a hard sell to the people of the province. More likely they should create partnerships with companies like Beothuk Energy to develop offshore leases that could provide royalties much the same as our offshore oil leases do now. Then it would be up to the producing companies and the purchasing consumers to take the risk of building the infrastructure and transmission links. With the boondoggle on the Churchill River front and center in people’s minds, I don’t see any other viable way to harness our wind resources at this time.

How different might the economic outlook of this province have been if there was a serious effort put forth by Nalcor and the provincial government to look at real green energy alternatives to Muskrat Falls? We will never know the answer to that question, but I hope that we have learned some lessons this time around that will guide us in our future development pursuits. We are still a very energy rich province, but years of mismanagement and deceit have left us unable to capitalize on our resources. I can only hope that Dwight or his eventual usurper will take a look to the past to help better understand our future. We can’t afford anymore hot air. 


  1. Dwight Ball has about as much control over what he has to say as a airport windsock has in choosing the direction in which it will point (downwind). I used to sympathize thinking perhaps he was a nice guy elected to fill an extremely difficult spot, and he seemed to want it, but now I realize he is almost completely spineless and not capable of any sort of reform in government or its institutions that will actually benefit people of this province. It is well past time for him to stand up and face the wind.

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