October 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 42
Renewable energy for municipality?
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Stock photo
Pass Herald Reporter
The provincial government’s Climate Leadership Plan, paired with favourable conditions for solar and wind energy generation, Crowsnest Pass may have a unique opportunity to lead the way in renewable energy in the province.

Green Cat Renewables is conducting a feasibility study in Crowsnest Pass to identify which renewable energy opportunities are available to the municipality within the confines of environmental and socio-economic constraints. The purpose of the study is to provide Council with recommendations and information for moving forward; the company has no mandate to plan or develop a concrete project.

Green Cat is a UK-based consulting company that advises on small-scale and locally owned projects. To date, they have wind, solar and hydro renewable energy projects across 420 separate sites, primarily in Europe. Their main focus is to facilitate and provide development support services to developers, communities and individuals who want to execute renewable projects.

Stephanie Ewing, vice president and director of Green Cat Renewables, presented Council with an interim report on the possibilities for Crowsnest Pass and general information on renewable energy in Alberta. Green Cat expects to have a complete report prepared for the end of October.

In September 2017, Council passed a motion to contribute $1,000 to the Green Cat feasibility study. The financial contribution would give the municipality ownership of the data.

Opportunity for CNP

According to Ewing, the opportunities for renewable energy in Crowsnest Pass lie mainly in solar and wind power.
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“Crowsnest has some of the best wind resource in the province. The higher the wind speed, the more efficient the machine will be, the more energy you are able to produce,” she says. “The same is true for solar. Some of the highest solar resource in the country is in the South Eastern corner of the province and certainly exceeds any solar resource anywhere in Europe, where there have been significant solar projects.”

Ewing identified the installation of solar panels on municipal roof space as the most accessible renewable energy project that can be executed in the short term. This would have potential to offset demand, cutting down on the energy bill of municipal buildings, and potentially be a source of revenue for any excess electricity sold back to the grid.

As medium-term projects, Ewing identified ground-mounted solar development and small wind energy development. A longer-term project would be run of river hydro development.

With the province's transition to more renewable electricity as the region shifts away from coal power, there is a market framework to support growth of renewable energy. In their Climate Leadership Plan, the Government of Alberta set up a plan to address the imbalance in fossil fuel generation and bring on more renewable generation, setting out a plan to deliver 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, which in practice means about 5,000 megawatts of new renewable generation. The plan also sets out a commitment to phase out all pollution from coal-fired electricity in the same timeframe.
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Several funding opportunities are available to parties and developers pursuing renewable energy projects.

Most developers look for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), a contract where a developer installs a renewable energy system on a customer’s property at little to no cost. This is meant to offset the developer’s expenses and a customer’s purchase of electricity. The agreement allows the customer to purchase power at a fixed rate that is usually less than the developer’s standard retail rate.

Various government funding opportunities are also available to parties looking to get involved in renewable energy.

The carbon levy was established specifically to apply to renewable energy projects. Introduced in November 2016, this is a tax on industry and businesses that produce high levels of carbon dioxide. The money generated is used to fund renewable energy programs.

Under Alberta’s Renewable Energy Program, the government has installed renewable electricity incentive programs with a competitive bid process that, awarded by price, encourage driving down the cost of energy. One of the priorities for the government in the coming year is developing the Community Renewable Energy Program, which will work to incentivize small-scale and community-owned renewable energy. For solar projects, there is the Residential and Commercial Solar Program, which is an upfront discount on the capital cost of installing small-scale and rooftop solar equipment.
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As with all forms of energy generation, revenue is made from the sale of electricity to the grid. As part of the feasibility study, Green Cat determined that grid cabling in Crowsnest Pass could accommodate up to 20 megawatts of renewable capacity.

Councillor Doreen Glavin requested that as part of the feasibility study, Green Cat come back with a price of sale of the renewable energy as well as buying it back. Glavin was concerned about the possibility that the buy back price would be higher than the selling price, thereby resulting in a financial loss.

Ewing underlined that renewable energy prices are competitive with those of traditional sources, particularly obvious when looking at the whole cost of producing that power.

“When you have gas, or coal power production, or any of the traditional fossil fuels, you have to factor in the cost of the fuel, the cost of mining that fuel, the cost of the maintenance of that facility. When you have renewable generation, you don’t have fuel costs, you don’t have added mining costs and maintenance is limited to maybe one visit a year,” she says.

There are various levels of involvement opportunity for the municipality based on how implicated they would want to be in a project, from 100% ownership to joint and split ventures.

“When it comes to smaller scale local generation it very much isn’t a one-size-fits-all and there is the opportunity to get involved in different levels, at different times, in different ways. It really depends on appetite for engagement and what level of ownership you want to take on,” she says.
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Energy balance

Coal generation has been a powerhouse of most of the world for over a century, having fuelled the industrialization of the U.S. and Europe, but industry advocates argue that with aging infrastructure and being a finite resource, its use is becoming unsustainable.

However, in a July 2017 article, The New York Times reported that 1,600 new coal-fired power plants are planned or under construction in 62 countries, indicating that much of the world is still very much reliant on this traditional source of energy.

That ultimate “sweet spot” of energy generation, according to Ewing, lies in a balance between traditional and renewable energy sources.

“There has to be a balance of technologies and to manage the intermittency of renewable. There are various ways of doing that. Coal and gas are very controllable. They get ramped up and down very easily and are actually a very good fit with renewables,” she says. “We need to balance the CO2 offset by having renewables on the grid and managing the grid a bit smarter. From a pure power point of view and a network management point of view, it doesn’t make sense to go all renewables, but they have a part to play. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. All technologies have a role in the energy of the future.”

The final feasibility study will provide a usable resource to the municipality to understand the opportunities for renewable generation while taking into account environmental and socio-economic constraints, like proximity to dwellings, distance to noise, visual impact, engineering design and viability for construction.

“They key outcome of our study would be a map to show areas that would meet all of the criteria for renewable development. This tool would be used to invite investment, start opening the door for discussion with developers that may be interested in renewables projects and to be more informed about those discussions,” says Ewing, adding that there has been a high expression of interest to cultivate renewable energy in the Pass on the part of developers.

In past meetings, several Councillors have expressed concern over getting into the renewable energy industry, citing the uncertainty of the future of the changes in regulations following the end of term of the current provincial government, whether the municipality should get back into the energy sector after just recently selling their electricity to Fortis, and concerns over the current renewable energy situation in Ontario, where the provincial government encouraged private businesses to invest in wind and solar projects by offering large subsidies. The strategy worked, but unfortunately led to an over-saturation of green energy projects in the province, which has been driving up the province’s power rates.
October 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 42
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