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Harnessing Wind Power: Alberta's Growing Wind Farms



In Alberta—a region boasting a wealth of natural resources—it should come as no surprise that the winds sweeping through our vast landscapes hold incredible potential for alternative energy generation. As our province seeks to diversify its energy mix and transition towards more sustainable sources, we've set our sights on the sky. Indeed, a promising "wind of change" is blowing through Alberta. 


This article takes an in-depth look at Alberta's expanding embrace of wind energy, from our humble beginnings with the establishment of the first wind farms to our current and future innovations. 


Whether you're an industrial energy consumer or a government official making critical energy-related decisions—welcome. You're about to embark on Alberta's exciting journey towards harnessing the power of the wind.


Disclaimer: The material found on this website is for educational purposes only. See full terms of website use here


(This article is part of our Alberta Energy education material – More articles like this can be found here).


1. Overview of Alberta's Wind Energy


Cowley North Windfarm located near Pincher Creak (Photo: Courtesy of Transalta)


The journey began back in 2001 with the establishment of the first commercial wind farm in Cowley Ridge. With 57 turbines, the farm was able to generate 1.1 MW power per turbine, seeing Alberta become a pioneer in Canada’s wind energy sector.


Early Challenges and Solutions

Like any new technology, the initial years of wind power in Alberta were not without their challenges. These ranged from public perception and acceptance, practical issues of integrating wind-generated power into the grid, to addressing environmental concerns. However, we, Albertans, took it head on. Commitments were made to educate the public about wind power, environmental assessment procedures were put into place before wind farm installations, and systems were updated to integrate renewable energy into the provincial grid seamlessly.


Current Status of Wind Energy in Alberta

Take a look around Alberta today, and you'll find a landscape transformed by the steady growth of wind energy.

AESO Current Supply Demand Report - Generation Summary - December 12,2023 at 8:30 pm. DCR - Dispatched (and Accepted) Contingency Reserve. TNG - Total Net Generation. MC - Maximum Capability


Currently in Alberta,Wind power makes up a total capacity of approximately 4,491 MW (Source: AESO, December 12,2023). Some of the large wind farms that contribute significantly to the energy supply include:


1. Blackspring Ridge Wind Project: The province's largest wind farm, it has 166 turbines with a generating capacity of 300 MW.

2. Halkirk Wind Project: With 83 turbines, it can produce about 150 MW of power.

3. Kettles Hill Wind Farm: This project, complete with 63 turbines, generates 100 MW power.


Percentage of Alberta’s Total Power Generated by Wind 


Alberta Energy Dasboard (www.albertaenergy.co) sowing the Alberta power generation mix as of 5 pm on December 12, 2023.


According to the AESO Supply webpage (December 12,2023), Alberta was harnessing the power of the wind to produce nearly 20% of the province's electricity at 5pm. Given the vast wind resources of Alberta, especially in the southern part of the province, this percentage share is predicted to rise significantly in the coming years.

   

Together, we have embraced wind energy, an energy source compatible with the ethos of sustainability and resource preservation that Alberta stands and strives for. This not only empowers our industrial outfits but also ensures we, as responsible communities, help pave the path toward a sustainable, renewable-powered future.


2. Technological advancements in Wind Energy

Technological advancements in wind energy have greatly impacted Alberta's ability to harness wind power and build a greener, more sustainable future. Wind farm technology has evolved over time, driving us forward in the quest for renewable energy solutions. 


Development in Turbine Technology

There are two areas where the trend of innovation has been equally exciting and promising: enhanced efficiency and increased power capacity.


Enhanced Efficiency 

Greater efficiency in wind turbine technology stands at the core of this evolutionary process. Key improvements in design and materials have led to wind turbines that capture energy more efficiently:



- Vortex Bladeless, a Spanish startup, has introduced bladeless turbines using vibrations to generate energy. This technology reduces mechanical elements that can break down, making turbines more efficient and cheaper to maintain

 

Increased Power Capacity 

With advancements in wind turbine technology, we are now able to explore the production of increased power capacity. Larger turbines with longer blades are being designed to capture more wind, thereby generating significantly more energy:


- The Haliade-X model, developed by GE Renewable Energy, is one of the most powerful wind turbines globally, boasting a 13 MW or 14 MW capacity per turbine. This gigantic turbine stands over 260 meters tall, with blades over 100 meters long


- Vestas has launched the V236-15.0 MW turbine, setting a new benchmark for power produced per turbine. This design takes advantage of technological advancements to improve energy efficiency and increase wind energy capture


Innovations in Storage and Management of Wind Power 


While capturing wind energy is a significant part of the equation, managing and storing that energy effectively is equally important. The innovations in battery technology and smart grid systems have been game-changing in this regard.


Battery Technology

Battery storage technology is essential for maintaining a consistent energy supply, even when wind conditions are not optimal. Many pioneering examples exist in our landscape:


- Tesla's Powerpack project in Alberta is one of the largest lithium-ion battery storage sites in the world. It is capable of storing up to 20 MW of energy, providing reliable and instantaneous access to stored wind energy


- Fluence's Alberta Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) offers flexible and fast-responding storage solutions. BESS can store up to 10 MW of energy and provides better voltage control, facilitating peak shaving and load balancing


Smart Grid Systems

Smart grid technology plays a critical role in optimizing the distribution of wind power.


- The City of Medicine Hat implemented a smart grid demonstration project funded by the Alberta government. This smart grid includes wind and solar power, with the grid's management system actively monitoring consumption and adjusting distribution accordingly


- OpenLSEF, an initiative by GE Grid Solutions and Itron, is an open-source platform that enables greater grid integration of renewable energy sources. This tool facilitates more significant communication and automation, improving efficiency and reliability of the distribution


Harnessing wind power through advanced wind technologies is no longer just a possibility—it's a reality that we're embracing. From more efficient turbines to revolutionary grid systems, Alberta, amongst other areas, is at the forefront, proving that renewable and sustainable energy sources are both viable and necessary in today's world.



3. Economic Impact of Wind Power in Alberta


We have seen the job market flourish in the wind power sector in Alberta. There has been a significant boom in employment opportunities, especially in wind farm construction, operation, and maintenance. The Ontario Energy Board provides an illuminating example, reporting that for every megawatt of wind energy installed, approximately one to two jobs are created.


Employment in wind farm construction, operation, and maintenance 

The construction phase of wind farms requires a large number of workers, ranging from engineers to site managers to labourers. There are numerous examples to pull from. For instance, the 93 megawatt Glacier Power Sundance project provided employment for over 125 people in the construction phase alone.

  

Once a wind farm is operational, it requires personnel for not only day-to-day operations but also ongoing maintenance to ensure peak performance. Across Alberta, thousands of jobs have been directly and indirectly created through the wind energy industry. 


Impact on local economies 


The impacts of wind farm installations on local economies are profound. These projects often source materials, skills and lodging locally which circulates finances within nearby regions. Locales hosting wind farms often benefit through the payment of land leases, and general property tax revenues increase as well. 


Investment in the wind energy sector is another aspect commanding attention. With increased awareness of the need for renewable energy and global warming, Alberta has seen a rise in investments.


Government policy and funding 


Government policies have played an essential role in fostering a favourable climate for wind energy development in the province. In 2017, around 600 MW of wind energy were procured through the Alberta Renewable Electricity Program (REP), attracting approximately $1 billion in private sector investment.


Private sector participation 


Numerous private companies have seen the potential and benefits of investing in Alberta's wind energy sector. For example, TransAlta Renewables, Enbridge, and Capital Power are important industry players who have significantly invested in Alberta's wind energy industry. Following the successful rounds of the REP awards, a trend towards increased private sector participation in the province’s wind energy sector is clear. 


The economic impact of harnessing wind power in Alberta is indeed substantial. Through the creation of jobs, the buoying of local economies, and the attraction of investment, it’s clear the province's wind energy sector is primed to continue playing a significant role in Alberta's flourishing renewable energy landscape.


Point 4. Future of Wind Power in Alberta

We're on the cusp of a bright future for wind power in Alberta. Several promising projects are currently in the pipeline, which will inevitably enhance our province's commitment to sustainable energy generation.


a. Planned Wind Farm Projects

Our province is gearing up for a number of ambitious wind farm projects. Let's turn the spotlight on a couple of them:


- Travers Solar Project: This initiative is heralded as Canada's largest operational wind farm. Situated in southern Alberta, the plant boasts a slated capacity of approximately 465 megawatts (MW), enough to power about 150,000 homes each year, according to reports from the developers, Greengate Power Corporation.


- Sharp Hills Wind Farm: EDP Renewables Canada Ltd, the project's developer, envisions a generation capacity of 298.8 MW from this eastern Alberta-based wind farm. Sharp Hills is expected to start transmitting power by the end of 2023.


i. Locations and Capacities of Future Farms

- The Halkirk 2 Wind Project: This Central Alberta wind farm is in the development stages with a targeted capacity of 150 MW, according to the developer, Capital Power.

   

- The Goose Lake Wind Project: This upcoming venture is positioned near Hanna in east-central Alberta. It is projected to generate 235 MW, as reported by the developer, RWE Renewables.


ii. Timeframes for Development and Operation

- Both the Halkirk 2 Wind Project and Goose Lake Wind Project have indicated completion in the 2024-2025 timeframe. These schedules are, of course, largely dependent on planning approvals, as well as factors like weather conditions and supply chain availability.


b. Potential Challenges and Solutions

Like any ambitious endeavour, wind farm development and operation in Alberta faces certain hurdles.


i. Environmental Considerations


- Concerns about wildlife impact, particularly to migratory birds and bats, are often raised. Implementing comprehensive environmental impact assessments and utilizing precautionary measures, like seasonal shut-down and detection technology, are some mitigation strategies being employed (https://canwea.ca/wind-energy/wildlife/).


ii. Public Acceptance and Regulatory Matters


- Concerns about noise pollution, aesthetics, and property value impacts are common. Here, we believe in making engagement, communication, and transparency key in ameliorating these issues. Developers are increasingly conducting sound studies and hosting public forums to counter misinformation and discuss residents' concerns (https://canrea.ca/wind-facts/wind-facts-101/).


In a world marching towards sustainable practices, Alberta's wind farms signify a stride in the right direction. From planned project development to tackling challenges head-on, we're committed to consolidating Alberta's place on the map of wind power reinvention.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the future growth and development of wind energy in Alberta is a powerful testament to the province's commitment to sustainable energy practices. Factoring in the sector's capacity for job creation, contribution to local economies, and ability to diversify Alberta's energy portfolio, the continual focus on wind power represents much more than a 'green' initiative; it signifies a robust, economically viable strategy for long-term, sustainable growth. 


Innovations in wind turbine technology and smart grid systems continue to push the boundaries of what is achievable in harnessing wind power, while planned future projects are ready to elevate Alberta to new heights in renewable energy. Although challenges such as environmental considerations and public acceptance must be carefully navigated, the province's  pioneering approach in renewable energy reveals a blueprint for a sustainable future, potentially setting a standard for other jurisdictions to follow.


As heavy energy users in the industrial sector, educative professionals, and policy makers learn more about this burgeoning energy sector and its potential, it is clear that throughout Alberta, the winds of change are blowing stronger than ever. It is our hope that this article continues to spark discussions, foster educational onuses and influence energy policies, thereby sowing the seeds for a greener future for Alberta and beyond. Let's understand, invest and harness this promising power that right now, might just be blowing in the wind.



FAQ: Everything on this Topic


1. What is the current state of wind farms in Alberta?

Wind power is an increasingly popular energy source in Alberta. The province has seen significant investment and rapid development in recent years, making it one of the leading renewable energy producers in Canada. 


2. How much of Alberta's energy comes from wind power?

Wind power currently provides about 9% of Alberta’s total energy capacity. This is up from 7% in 2017 and is expected to continue to increase as more wind farms come online and generate more power.


3. How is Alberta harnessing wind power for electricity?

Alberta relies on a combination of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources to generate electricity (amongst other thermal power generation from coal and natural gas). Wind farms capture the kinetic energy of wind and convert it into electricity by rotating large turbine blades. This electricity is then fed into the provincial grid, where it is distributed to homes and businesses in the province.


4. What are the largest wind farms in Alberta?

The largest wind farm in Alberta is located in the southern part of the province. The Halkirk Wind Park has over 170 turbines and a total capacity of 500 megawatts. Other large wind farms include the Whitecourt Wind Complex (447 MW), the Wintering Hills Wind Facility (420 MW), and the Blackspring Ridge Wind Farm (200 MW).


5. How many wind turbines are in Alberta?

Currently, there are over 2,000 wind turbines across the province with a total capacity of over 3,000 MW.


6. How much does it cost to build a wind farm in Alberta?

The cost of building and operating a wind farm varies, depending on the size and location of the turbines. Generally, the cost of building a wind farm can range from $1.5 million to $5 million per megawatt of capacity.


7. What are the environmental benefits of wind farms in Alberta?

Wind farms generate clean electricity with no emissions. This helps reduce Alberta’s reliance on nonrenewable sources of energy such as coal and natural gas. Wind farms also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping to combat climate change.


8. How does Alberta's wind power capacity compare to other provinces in Canada?

Alberta has the third-largest installed capacity of wind power in Canada, behind Quebec (25%) and Ontario (36%). However, Alberta is one of the fastest-growing markets for wind power, with investment increasing rapidly in recent years.


9. What is the future outlook for wind power in Alberta?

The future of wind power in Alberta is very positive. Government support and investment continues to be very strong, and more and more companies are looking to build and operate wind farms in the province.


10. What are the challenges to building and operating wind farms in Alberta?

The main challenge for wind farms in Alberta is obtaining the necessary permits and authorizations. In some cases, obtaining the required documents can be a lengthy and expensive process. There are also concerns about the impact of wind turbines on wildlife and the environment. These issues must be addressed to ensure that wind farms are developed responsibly and safely.


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