Ontario will overtake Alberta as the wind-power capital of Canada by the end of the year, in part because Alberta doesn't have enough transmission lines to connect new wind turbinesto its power grid.
Alberta produces about 300 megawatts of wind power, concentrated in the Pincher Creek area of southwest Alberta. A single turbine can crank out one megawatt of electricity, enough to power about 500 homes.
"Because of the transmission constraints, we are stuck pretty much right now at the 400 megawatt level," said Jason Edworthy, a spokesman for Vision Quest, the wind power division of TransAlta.
"That's not because the system itself can't take it technically. It's just that the power lines in those areas, they're kind of like a pipeline— they're full."
Rapidly growing industry
The province is playing catch-up when it comes to building power lines, trying to keep pace with an industry that could soon triple in size to 900 megawatts.
Alberta's wind power capabilities will hit that mark in 2007 or 2008, said Warren Frost, spokesman for the Alberta Electric System Operator, which oversees the province's power grid.
"We will have the transmission facilities in the southwest available about the same time as that," he said.
Edworthy certainly hopes it happens that fast.
"We have another 1,600 megawatts of windthat's committed to being built and perhaps another 1,000 megawatts planned above that," he said.
Wind isn't reliable
However, the Alberta Electric System Operator says it can't rely on any more than 900 megawatts of wind (less than eightper cent of the province's total power generation) because wind doesn't blow consistently. When it drops off, coal and natural gas plants have to take up the slack to avoid power shortages.
To better integrate wind power, the organization is already looking for ways to improve wind forecasting.
"You have to be able to predict that it's going to happen, and then you have to have the resources to deal with the situation," said Frost.