Wednesday, 13 July 2016 13:41

SaskPower holds the key to the potential of community-owned renewable energy projects

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Swift Current area residents had an opportunity to learn more about a proposal for a $90-million wind and solar project at a public meeting in the city on July 11.

The proposal was developed by Saskatchewan Wind (SaskWind) and MiEnergy Saskatchewan. They have been talking to SaskPower during the past two years about a wind and solar project in the Swift Current area, but the proposal now has added significance due to the Crown corporation’s new targets for renewable energy.
SaskPower announced in November 2015 that it has established a target to double the renewable electricity generation capacity in the province over the next 15 years.
Currently, about 25 per cent of electricity generation takes place through renewable resources. Hydro is responsible for 20 per cent of this capacity and wind for five per cent.
The new renewable target means that 50 per cent of electricity generation will be done through renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal power by 2030.
SaskPower is anticipating three new wind power projects currently under consideration will add 207 megawatts of renewable power generation to the electricity grid by 2020.
SaskPower’s goal is to procure an additional 100 megawatts of wind power in 2016. Future procurement will add 1,600 megawatts of wind generated power between 2019 and 2030.
The Crown corporation also wants to expand the amount of energy generated through solar power, which is minimal at the moment. The goal therefore is to start a procurement process in 2016 that will increase solar power generation to at least 60 megawatts in coming years.
SaskPower’s new renewable energy targets will no doubt result in more interest from wind and solar development companies in Saskatchewan as a destination for renewable energy investment.
However, the proposal by SaskWind and MiEnergy Saskatchewan will probably differ in a significant way from other proposals for renewable energy projects in the province, because they are suggesting a community-owned model.
The presentation by SaskWind President James Glennie at the public meeting drew a clear distinction between the corporate model of ownership and a community-owned renewable project. Obvious differences relate to who will be involved in decision-making and profit-sharing.
In addition a community-owned proposal will potentially experience less resistance from local residents who might be concerned about environmental or other impacts of such a development. Expectations about the local benefits of a community-owned project will result in a greater willingness from people to compromise and to find solutions to concerns raised about a project.
Community-owned renewable energy projects have been developed with success in European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, but the corporate model is still the standard approach in Canada. This proposal for the Swift Current area will be the first megawatt-size community-owned wind and solar project in North America.
It is therefore uncertain if local landowners and community members will see this as a worthwhile investment opportunity. An even greater uncertainty is whether SaskPower will be open to a project proposal of this nature. The Crown corporation is currently purchasing electricity from privately-operated power generating facilities.
Glennie’s presentation acknowledged this challenge. He indicated SaskPower has a well-defined tender process, but a community-owned project proposal does not fit within that framework. An alternative is to submit a community-owned project under SaskPower’s unsolicited power proposal process, if the Crown corporation is willing to allow that.
SaskPower’s website provides no indication that it might be willing to consider the community-owned approach for renewable projects. It is stated on the website that SaskPower’s new targets for renewable energy will provide opportunities for “private sector power producers” and under the timeline for procurement of renewable energy projects there is a reference to a review of policies for soliciting projects from independent power producers to ensure that processes meet the needs of power producers and stakeholders.
A key factor in the success of community-owned renewable energy projects in some European countries was the establishment of government policies that supported such an approach. For example, in Denmark the Renewable Energy Act requires that all new wind projects must have at least a 20 per cent local ownership and arrangements for grid connections make it financially feasible for community-owned projects to proceed.
The German federal government has established several policies since the early 1990s to support community-owned renewable energy generation, for example priority grid connections for such projects and a requirement that grid operators must purchase power from renewable energy generators.
According to the Pembina Institute, the provincial governments in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have already passed legislation that supports community-owned renewable projects.
SaskPower’s targets for renewable energy generation can be the start of a sizeable renewable energy industry in the province.
Community-owned projects can give Saskatchewan residents a direct interest in the industry, but only if SaskPower removes any barriers to the consideration of such projects.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece by emailing him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Matthew Liebenberg