Can P.E.I.’s mighty breeze transform the island from power importer to energy exporter?

Posted on March 15, 2021 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

Lukas Swan, director of Dalhousie University’s Renewable Energy Storage Laboratory, co-authored Maritime Regional Wind Energy Resources: Determining preferred regions for additional onshore and offshore wind energy development. The report warned that additional wind farms in P.E.I. could contribute to electrical transmission congestion.

Prince Edward Island’s energy corporation harbours big ambitions when it comes to renewable energy, particularly wind power. Page three of the 2016/17 P.E.I. Energy Corporation strategy report states: “…we will explore and develop relationships with transmission and generation project partners to enable the province to take advantage of potential future export opportunities.” But while clean, renewable energy from the wind sounds promising, the question remains: Will P.E.I. be able to build enough infrastructure and capacity to not only take control of its own energy future, but also provide enough surplus for export?

Picking up speed
The PEI Energy Corp. (PEIEC) wants to add 30 megawatts of wind power (six to eight new turbines) to its existing Eastern Kings Wind Farm. That expansion would double the capacity of the wind farm, which currently hosts 10 massive Vestas V-90 turbines. There are talks of adding another 40-megawatt project in 2025.
While impressive to behold, those additional turbines won’t generate power for export. It’ll only be enough to meet current demand, explains Carl Brothers, the founder and president of Frontier Power Systems. Frontier is providing project management services to the development. Among other things, the company specializes in wind turbine manufacturing, and installation.

The Eastern Kings Wind Farm expansion, if successful, would be PEIEC’s sixth wind development project since 2001. “The last wind project, commissioned in 2014, brought wind’s contribution to nearly 30 per cent of the island’s electricity use,” Brothers noted. But more demand for power on the island, a demand that’s met via imported energy, has decreased the percentage of wind’s contribution to the power grid. That’s the reason behind the province’s current drive to expand and build new wind farms: so it can increase the amount of power from wind generation.

To get a sense of the potential size of the expansion and how much capacity it might add, one only needs to look at the current Eastern Kings Wind Farm. Constructed in 2006 at a cost of $55 million, the wind farm’s 10 turbines generate an average of 90 gigawatt hours annually, enough to power roughly 11,000 homes per year. A 44-kilometre transmission line carries the energy from the wind farm to a substation at Dingwell’s Mills.

The proposed Eastern Kings Wind Farm expansion will generate about five per cent of P.E.I.’s electricity, according to Brothers, who called it a “modest amount (compared) to the electrical requirements of the region, less than one per cent. But it is key to understand the mandate of the Corporation is to generate wind power for P.E.I.’s electrical load and not for export out of the province. There are private wind developments on P.E.I. that are expected to respond to export markets.”

The project is expected to provide nearly fixed price, zero emission electricity to islanders for the next 25 years. Brothers said that the island’s “exceptional wind resource” makes wind the province’s most economically viable energy. While the cost of solar power is decreasing, the availability of power from solar is dramatically reduced during the cold, dark winter months when electrical and heating loads are highest, Brothers pointed out. “Wind is stronger in winter and matches our loads much better than solar.”

Big breezes, but…
Although the island wants to achieve energy independence, that is—by the provincial government’s own assessment—a long way off. That same provincial 2016/17 Energy Strategy report showed imported power from New Brunswick represented almost 60 per cent of the island’s electricity mix.

The amount of wind the island draws for power is second in the world only to Denmark, claims an island provincial government report, but that doesn’t mean it’s always available. The island’s wind is what’s called an “intermittent resource (the full amount is not always available when needed) making it necessary to import energy from N.B.

P.E.I. may be a large wind producer but it’s a small player when it comes to energy in Atlantic Canada. An August 2020 joint federal-provincial government report, Towards A Clean Power Roadmap for Atlantic Canada, shows P.E.I. producing the most wind power among the four provinces, generating .65 terawatts of energy. But looking at the regional energy for 2019, that’s a tiny fraction of the overall power produced. Nova Scotia, for example, produced 9.76 terawatts, albeit most of that came from fossil fuels. Newfoundland and Labrador generated 42.45 terawatts from hydraulic turbines.

The most optimistic prediction when it comes to wind exports comes from the lobby group for wind energy, The Canadian Wind Energy Association (now called the Canadian Renewable Energy Association). In 2016 the association carried out a three-year project in which it created simulations of the Canadian and U.S. power grids in the year 2025. Among its findings, the association predicted Quebec, N.B., N.S. and P.E.I. could achieve capacity of 1,200 megawatts, opening export opportunities.

To reach its conclusion, the association simulated adding transmission capacity to allow for the greater flow of power between N.B., N.S., Quebec, and Maine, as well as additional ties between N.S. and P.E.I. And therein is part of the problem: transmission bottlenecks still prevent the efficient distribution of energy. As the Atlantica Centre for Energy has pointed out: “Currently, there are capacity limitations, especially during peak times such as cold winter mornings when there is high electricity demand throughout the region…Prince Edward Island also has capacity issues in its effort to transmit excess wind power off the Island.”

It seems likely that if P.E.I. does reach a point where it significantly exports any of its wind energy, it will be as part of the so-called Atlantic Loop. The Atlantic Regional Transmission Loop is a proposed regional grid system meant to provide renewable energy to the four provinces and beyond. While the concept has recently received a federal funding commitment to kick off the study, it’s still years away from realization. Some of the initial work over 2021 includes identifying energy transmission alternatives and working out financing for large electricity infrastructure projects.

Taking the wind out
Even if the Atlantic Loop does reach a stage where it’s able to relieve transmission bottlenecks between Canada, and the United States, it’s debatable as to how much of that energy will originate from P.E.I. Lukas Swan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Dalhousie University and the director of that school’s Renewable Energy Storage Laboratory, along with his colleague Nathaniel Pearre, recently released a study on wind characteristics in the Maritimes.

Titled “Maritime Regional Wind Energy Resources: Determining pre- ferred regions for additional onshore and offshore wind energy development”, the study identifies the best locations where new wind farms would minimize the cost of integrating wind into the electrical grid. Swan and Pearre argue that wind farms should be located around the periphery of the Maritimes, citing northwest N.B. and the N.B. panhandle, offshore near Sable Island, and on Cape Breton. On-or-off-shore Grand Manan Island is seen as a particularly good spot, not only because of its wind speeds, among other reasons, but also because of proximity to the N.B. electricity transmission system. Point Lepreau generating station is 60 kilometres to the northeast while Coleson Cove is 80 kilometres northwest.

The authors contend that further wind energy development in southeast N.B., central and northern N.S., and central and southern P.E.I. would “exacerbate variability of regional net load, and thus the need for balancing services.” According to the study, additional wind farms in those areas would contribute to electrical transmission congestion both with the provinces and within the region. Swan told Atlantic Business Magazine that as more wind farms are built the fluctuation of the power output rising and falling with the wind could make managing the energy more difficult. “As consumers we demand very reliable electricity from the utility.”

Will P.E.I. become a major wind energy exporter? At this point, the answer is blowing in the wind, but it seems certain it won’t be any time soon. •

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