Publicly traded Northland Power has withdrawn two wind projects from B.C.'s environmental approval process, officially halting proposals that had been dormant for several years as the Site C hydroelectric dam puts a chill on renewable energy projects.
The proposals – for Mount George Wind Park, a 300-megawatt wind farm 38 kilometres southeast of Prince George, and Mount Kathleen Wind Park, a 250-megawatt wind farm near Summerland – were officially withdrawn last week, following correspondence between B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office and Northland about lack of activity on both projects.
The withdrawals highlight challenges faced by would-be renewable energy developers in B.C. now that Site C is in the wings, says Vancouver energy lawyer David Austin. Site C is a multibillion-dollar hydroelectricity project now under construction on the Peace River. Crown corporation B.C. Hydro says the 1,100-megawatt facility will provide clean, low-cost electricity for decades and help keep greenhouse gas emissions in check.
But the project is controversial because of its cost and social and environmental impacts, which include flooding part of the Peace River Valley to create an 83-kilometre reservoir. And it has also hurt the case for other renewable alternatives, including wind farms, because it makes it less likely that B.C. Hydro will need, or be willing to pay for, their output.
"There has to be a reasonable prospect of a market," Mr. Austin said.
"And at this point in time, Site C is casting a terribly dark shadow over the renewable sector in B.C," Mr. Austin continued.
Independent power producers – including run-of-river, wind and biomass projects – currently account for about 25 per cent of B.C. Hydro's supply.
B.C. Hydro also buys power through its standing offer program, which focuses on clean or renewable electricity projects up to 15 megawatts in capacity.
For wind companies eyeing projects of 200 megawatts or more, that threshold is not enough to spur investment.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) closed its B.C. office this past January to focus on Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
"B.C. has a world-class wind resource – it has a lot of potential and we believe very much in this market," said CanWEA vice-president Jean-François Nolet.
"We think the market will emerge in B.C. … in terms of short-term opportunities for the industry in general, it's a bit unclear," he added.
Prospects for wind projects in B.C. have also been crimped by increasing amounts of solar and wind generation in the United States, said Warren Brazier, an energy lawyer with Watson Goepel.
But that outlook could change, based on liquefied natural gas and how many – if any – of 20 proposals for LNG plants in B.C. will be developed.
If LNG projects were to be "electrified" – by using electricity instead of natural gas to fuel some of the steps involved – that could result in potential additional demand for electricity from wind or solar projects.
"Site C absolutely pushes out otherwise good, major wind projects – there's no demand for them," Mr. Brazier said.
Site C provides "clean" electrons, in the form of hydroelectricity, but there is still a heated debate over whether that is the best way for the province to obtain that supply, he added.
A Northland Power representative was not immediately available to comment about the shelved B.C. proposals.
In an e-mail, a company spokeswoman said, "for various reasons, we have decided not to move forward with the projects in Mount George or Mount Kathleen at this time.
"However, we do continue to actively develop projects across Canada."
Those projects include Grand Bend, a 100-megawatt wind farm in Ontario that started commercial production in April.
Wind-powered electricity generation has been growing rapidly, but still represents only a tiny fraction of electricity in Canada – 1.8 per cent in 2013, according to a 2015 report by the International Energy Association, compared with 0.1 per cent a decade earlier.
The biggest chunk of Canadian electricity comes from hydropower, at 60.1 per cent of output in 2013.
That is followed by nuclear at 15.8 per cent; natural gas at 10.3 per cent; coal at 10 per cent; wind at 1.8 per cent; oil at 1.2 per cent; biofuels and waste at 0.8 per cent; and solar at 0.1 per cent.