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Powerful prairie wind power in Canada

The Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan is ramping up wind power production with its latest project, in an area described as having one of the best wind resources in Canada.

By Tony Kryzanowski

"The wind resource in Saskatchewan is very good. In terms of average wind speeds, the Morse project and our nearby Chaplin project are among the best sites in our portfolio."

Those words, spoken by Steven Hitchinson, project manager with Algonquin Power, explain the company's considerable interest in developing wind power in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Algonquin recently completed its 23-megawatt Morse wind power project outside the small, southern Saskatchewan town of Morse, in an area described as one of the best wind resource regions in Canada.

The province's electrical utility, SaskPower, has set specific targets for the development of wind power, and the private sector has taken notice. According to SaskPower, there are many private developers meeting with community leaders, conducting meteorological surveys in prime wind resource zones, and holding discussions with landowners about possible land lease options for wind turbines. SaskPower wants 10 percent of its electricity generated from wind by 2020 (which will require an additional 100 MWs compared to current production) and 20 percent by 2030, requiring an additional 700 MWs of wind power development.

SaskPower is expected to seek a number of requests for proposals (RFPs) from developers in the near future, with the offer of a power purchase agreement (PPA) to help the province achieve its objectives.

"Over the next 10 years, we'll need to supply enough additional electricity to power a city the size of Saskatoon two times over," says Brian Mohr, SaskPower's director of sustainable supply development. Saskatoon is the province's largest city, with a population of just over 222,000 people.

The area around Morse, which is located along the Trans-Canada Highway in the southern part of Saskatchewan, is one prime location for possible development.

"Geographically, it is very flat terrain," says Hitchinson. "There are no large obstructions, hills, or forests to slow the wind as it rolls across the prairies. So we get consistent winds at fairly high wind speeds." The Morse wind farm turbine towers can be seen from town, 10 kilometers away.

The Morse project, with its 10 turbines, is tied to a 20-year PPA with SaskPower and will generate enough electricity for about 12,000 homes per year.

It is quite small compared to Algonquin Power's other nearby wind development. The $344 million Chaplin wind farm, about 26 kilometers from Morse, will consist of up to 177 MWs of installed capacity. It is tied to a 25-year PPA with SaskPower. Algonquin Power also has a 75 percent stake in the $69 million Red Lily wind farm near the town of Moosomin, which came online in 2011. That installation consists of 16 wind turbines producing 26.4 MWs of power.

Some have described wind power as having evolved into one of the lowest cost options for new power generation, and Mohr says there are a number of reasons for costs coming down.

"The technology has evolved to the point where it is very advanced," he says. "It's a relatively mature technology. The cost has been driven down by research and development, and the manufacturing capabilities, particularly overseas, have been able to drive costs down. I think there are still some opportunities on the manufacturing side in North America, but I guess that remains to be seen." He adds that the overall size of wind power development is also having an impact on making wind power more competitive.

Algonquin Power opted to include the cold weather performance package on the Siemens direct drive, SWT-2.3-113 wind turbines used on the Morse project to enable operation in colder temperatures than what the turbine supplier's standard package permits. In addition to supplying the wind turbines, Siemens also signed a 10-year service and maintenance agreement on the installation. 

To connect the Morse wind farm to the provincial power grid, SaskPower installed a 138 kilovolt (kV), 14 kilometer-long interconnection line to the Morse wind farm, as well as a 25 kV/138 kV electrical substation.

They also installed the interconnecting lines from the substation to each wind turbine transformer. Hitchinson says this is a rather unique aspect to working with SaskPower, as they have the exclusive right to supply, transmit, and distribute electricity within the province. Typically, the project developer would be responsible for the supply and installation of the substation and the distribution system to connect the turbines to the electricity grid. While this made the physical tie-in easier for the developer, he adds that it does present some design challenges when the developer is not responsible for designing the substation as part of the project.

All 10 Morse wind farm turbines are located on 1120 acres of private farmland. Each landowner is being compensated by Algonquin Power for locating the turbines on their property, thereby providing them with a new income source. The local municipality is also benefiting from the additional municipal tax revenue paid by this development, and Hitchinson adds that the community and the municipality have been supportive of the project from day one.

"We continue to have a good relationship with them and would love to do another project with them if the opportunity presented itself." Additionally, he described Algonquin Power's experience working with the province as a 'business-friendly environment'.

To take advantage of more favorable weather, construction started on the Morse project in August 2014, with roads and foundation construction completed at the end of October. By January, the Siemens direct drive, SWT-2.3-113 wind turbine components began arriving. Algonquin Power opted to include the cold weather performance package on the Siemens wind turbines to enable operation in colder temperatures than what the turbine supplier's standard package permits. In addition to supplying the wind turbines, Siemens also signed a 10-year service and maintenance agreement on the installation. This is the first wind project the company has supplied in Saskatchewan.

All 10 of the wind farm turbines on the Morse project are located on 1120 acres of private farmland. The turbines were erected and installed by the end of March 2015. Signal Energy was the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor on the project. 

Signal Energy was the engineering, procurement and construction, (EPC) contractor on the project. Nelson Engineering Construction conducted the concrete foundation work, and Barnhart Crane erected the towers. Century Electric was the main electrical contractor, while Cooper Power Systems provided the pad-mounted transformers.

The turbines were erected and installed by the end of March 2015, and the Morse site began selling power to SaskPower the third week of March.

Hitchinson says there were no significant challenges during construction of the Morse project except a period when they encountered temperatures that were warmer than expected which made crane and equipment movement around the sites challenging due to melting ground cover. The cold winter weather was always expected to present the biggest challenge.

There were 65 workers on the site during peak construction, and three permanent site jobs were created to maintain operations. A two-year post-construction bird and bat mortality monitoring program is underway with results to be provided to the provincial government. The company says it will continue to work with the provincial government regarding any significant items of interest resulting from this program.

Mohr says the goal of adding another 800 megawatts of wind power production by 2030, in addition to the Chaplin wind farm and two other projects currently in SaskPower's supply plan, is not without its challenges, largely because of wind's intermittent nature.

"We have to deal with not only the economics of wind power and the load growth, but also the operating issues that would have to be resolved as we deploy that much more wind. Wind is a wonderful environmental product, but it does have challenges on the electricity side of the equation," Mohr says.

He adds that given its intermittent nature, "you can't necessarily turn on the power when you need it. Rather you have to accept the power when the wind is blowing and the machinery is operational." SaskPower's plan is to introduce wind power into the system in parallel with ramping up its power generating capability, so that customers will continue to have a dependable power supply.

"You have to have fast-response generators on the system. As the wind output goes up and down with the speed of the wind, you have to have the ability to ramp up and ramp down in step with overall load to ensure that you have reliable service to customers," Mohr says.

As Saskatchewan pursues more wind power projects, Mohr says the power utility is considering the benefit of what he called 'regional diversity'. The concept behind regional diversity is greater geographic distribution of wind farms. This approach could provide the utility with a more reliable source of electricity from this resource, given the intermittent nature of wind power production, and it could govern how SaskPower approves future wind projects.

"You can actually get a much more reliable wind power product overall if you spread your wind power installations over a larger geographical area that has different wind regimes," says Mohr. "The idea is that if the wind is not blowing in one location, it might be blowing in another."

While this approach sounds reasonable in theory, SaskPower realizes that it must also balance economics and operational efficiency against the potential value that regional diversity offers in greater wind power reliability.

"The message we have for developers is to stay tuned for more RFPs," says Mohr, "and best of luck to every developer in our competitive processes."