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While oil and gas remain primary components of Alberta's energy mix, wind power has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to play a more central role in the province's energy mix.

According to Lana Norgaard, the Canadian Wind Energy Association's (CanWEA) regional director for Alberta, several factors - including market dynamics and cabinet-level support - have conspired to boost the province's prospects for wind.

For starters, according to a long-term forecast from the Alberta Electric System Operator, load growth will increase by 3.2% over the next 20 years - which means the province will need about 6.2 GW of new generation by the beginning of the next decade.

Furthermore, it is expected that more than 4 GW of Alberta’s coal plants will be retired, which means that gap will need to be replaced with new generation.

The province has also benefited from recent political decisions: Last year's election of Alison Redford, who has repeatedly expressed support for wind power and renewables, as the province’s premier provided the wind industry with a real shot in the arm.

All of these benefits are starting to be recognized. At a recent reception in Alberta attended by several members of the Alberta wind delegation, including CanWEA, Minister of Energy Ken Hughes spoke of the potential for wind energy to make significant contributions to the province, including benefits for consumers, the economy and the environment.

According to Hughes, wind energy has the ability to stabilize consumer electricity prices, deliver significant benefits to rural communities and contribute to Alberta’s community engagement, Norgaard says.

Exactly how much demand can be filled by wind energy depends on how successful the province is in building out its transmission lines and in communicating its message to rival market participants and the provincial government.

One potential challenge presented by Alberta’s energy market is that it is Canada’s only deregulated market. There are no government-owned and -operated utilities in Alberta, meaning wind developers cannot obtain long-term power purchase agreements as easily as developers can in Quebec and Ontario.

However, this unique aspect of Alberta’s energy market can also be seen as an opportunity.

"This represents a unique window of opportunity to persuade our government and regulators that our province has an abundance of world-class wind energy resources, but we need a policy framework to support wind energy development," Norgaard says.

Early next year, CanWEA plans to release a policy paper specific to Alberta, similar to the ones the association has already released for Ontario and Quebec.

By the end of this year, Alberta will have surpassed 1 GW of installed wind energy capacity, joining Ontario and Quebec as the only provinces to surpass the milestone. However, there is potential for more.

According to Norgaard, the Alberta caucus is in the process of examining potential policy options, including a clean energy standard and changes to the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, a 2007 program started by Alberta to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.



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