The Atlantic Wind Site opened at North Cape, P.E.I. in 1981 to explore and advance the development of wind energy across Canada. Rebranded as the Wind Energy Institute of Canada (WIECan) in 2005, the research and development non-profit owns and operates a functional 10-megawatt wind park—a working lab that facilitates on-going research on turbine performance, system health, wind predictability, power storage and integration. Today, WIECan collaborates with, and provides consulting and testing services for, government, industry, universities and research organizations. Natural Resources Magazine contributor Stephanie Porter asks CEO Scott Harper what attracted him to the industry and how it has changed over the past decade.
NATURAL RESOURCES MAGAZINE: What inspired you to get into the wind sector?
Scott Harper: The energy pricing policy in P.E.I. used to be New Brunswick plus 10 per cent—whatever someone would pay for energy in New Brunswick you could count on us paying a 10 per cent premium. That was a challenge economically, whether it was for business attraction or manufacturing or something else. I come at this from an economic impact perspective: what does it do for the economy if we can more efficiently generate our own electricity?
NRM: The province has certainly made great strides in that direction.
SH: A lot of our research focus is on issues of integrating large quantities of wind energy into the grid. And we can do that, because that’s our reality: here on P.E.I., 25 to 40 per cent of our electricity comes from wind.
NRM: You’ve received $600,000 in ACOA funding to add a solar farm to your facility. Why move into solar?
SH: When I started in this industry, it felt a bit like the renewable energy sectors were in competition with each other. That’s all changed. One of our key areas of interest today is showing how solar and wind can be complementary… Some of the push-back we get on wind generation is that when the turbines aren’t generating, they consume energy. It’s not a lot, but that’s legitimate. And that’s where the solar tie-in and the battery tie-in get interesting.
For example: when hurricane Dorian came through, we lost power to the site on a Saturday evening. We didn’t get power back until Wednesday. We do have a diesel generator in our substation for emergency purposes, so we can feed some power to those units and protect them. But we’re renewable energy guys, it hurts a little every time we start up the diesel generator! We’d like to have the backup energy we need, between the battery and the solar… we’re looking at what that looks like in our type of environment.
NRM: How has the wind industry changed since you came to WIECan in 2008?
SH: At one time, cost was a problem—the cost of generation for wind always required some level of subsidization. The less wind you have the more support you might need. Projects were selling energy to the grid for more than the price consumers would pay.
In the last 15 years, the efficiency of turbines has improved. As they’ve gotten bigger, there’s economies of scale. The turbine manufacturers have figured out how to control their costs on the capital side, and owner operators better understood the cost structure to continue to operate and support them.
I’m the first to admit my bias, but in my view, wind is the low-cost option right now. Coupled with that, solar has also dropped substantially in cost.
Like any other business, you’ve got to match supply and demand. Energy is generated when the wind blows but if there’s not wind blowing, it’s not. That’s not new. A lot of work is being done now to show that better ties from province to province, region to region, will help balance that out. One of the great things we have going for us in Canada is our hydroelectric projects, which are green as well, and they respond well to those kinds of fluctuations. •