Thursday, 15 December 2016 11:16

SaskWind gives up on promoting wind energy in the province

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SaskWind, the Saskatoon-based organization that has proposed a $90 million community-owned wind and solar energy project for the Swift Current area, has ceased operations in the province.


James Glennie, the founder and president of SaskWind, made the announcement on Dec. 4 through a blog post on the organization's website.
“We've been at this now for four and a half years and we've encountered resistance all the way,” he told the Prairie Post.
SaskWind initially proposed a wind project near Saskatoon, but it was unable to secure an agreement with SaskPower. As a result SaskWind shifted focus to the Swift Current area as a location for a community-owned renewable energy project.
“The nature of pursuing a project and particularly the nature of public policy, which I've been working in for a long time, is that you basically knock on a door and if it's closed and you can't open it, you go and find another door to knock on,” he said. “I think we've got to a stage where we've knocked on all the doors and they're all closed, and I think once you've exhausted all the options you simply got to call it quits.”
SaskWind has worked with MiEnergy Saskatchewan on a proposal for a wind and solar project in the Swift Current area. They hosted a public meeting on the proposed project at the Credit Union iplex in Swift Current on July 11. The proposal was for a project of 35 megawatts, including 25 megawatts through wind turbines and 10 megawatts through solar photovoltaic panels.
SaskWind will not be part of this initiative any longer, but Glennie noted there are still people who are interested in pursuing this proposal for a community-owned wind and solar project near Swift Current.
“I’ve been working with people to ensure the project doesn’t die,” he said. “The landowner is interested, we’ve got legal representation, there’s funding available, we still got some of the key supports in place. So I think there’s a very good chance it will go ahead. ... The reality is the project is still there and I think a lot of it also is going to depend on the politics.”
Glennie has been critical of SaskPower's approach to renewable energy and of the provincial government's focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS). He believes the proposed Swift Current project might therefore benefit from SaskWind's decision to cease operations.
“I’m seen as a bit of a divisive figure,” he said. “I’ve criticized this government’s energy policy, CCS, and clearly as a result the government dislikes me. I think there is a view that maybe we can work with a trial project, but we just don’t want James Glennie around. That’s alright, I can live with that. I mean, it’s disappointing, but that’s just life.”
SaskWind's position was that SaskPower must do more to utilize Saskatchewan's world-class wind and solar resources. Glennie feels the doors he knocked on did not open due to the provincial government's different view of energy issues.
“Primarily the vision of the premier is we want to do CCS,” Glennie mentioned. “He said that in the climate change white paper he released on the 18th of October. He very clearly said the future is CCS and nuclear. That is his vision, and you can talk about SaskPower being difficult, but in the end SaskPower is an arm of government. It is the premier’s decision and as a result you can play games and go around knocking on different doors and talking to different people, but at the end of the day it all leads back to the premier’s office.”
The final straw for Glennie was the decision on Dec. 2 by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency that a federal environmental assessment will not be required for the Chinook Power Station, a 350 megawatt combined cycle natural gas power station near Swift Current.
“Our view was that wind energy is economically and technically feasible,” he said. “Wind energy could be build before Chinook. We do not need more gas power on the system to build more wind energy. If you build wind energy in place of Chinook, you would avoid a million tons a year of greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s not small, bearing in mind that Canada needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 200 million tons per year by 2030. So that’s half a per cent of what we need to do as a country.”
He believes there is also another significant reason why a wind energy project at Swift Current would be a better option than a natural gas power station.
“The water requirements for the power station will be equivalent to 15 Olympic swimming pools every year,” he said. “Swift Current is a semi-arid environment. It can have hot, dry summers and if that happens 15 swimming pools is a lot of water. Wind turbines don’t need any water for cooling. So to my mind it was a no-brainer that they would call in the project and tell SaskPower you can’t build this, you’ve got to build wind energy first.”
Glennie is still optimistic about the future of renewable energy in Saskatchewan, despite his reservations about the provincial government's energy policy.
He referred to a statement made three years ago by SaskPower's former CEO Robert Watson that wind energy will never contribute more than eight per cent to the Crown corporation’s generating capacity.
This was in contrast to the announcement at the end of 2015 by the current SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh that wind energy will contribute 2,100 megawatts or 30 per cent to overall electricity generation capacity by 2030.
“It just seems to me the conversation has shifted,” Glennie said. “There was a lot of negativity in the media three years ago, and there was a lot of negativity on social media, and that seems to have evaporated. I think people are now saying why can’t we do it.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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