‘Power is the real issue’

Plans to strengthen and revamp Alberta’s electric highway were unveiled to a small group of interested Olds and area residents Wednesday.

Alberta Energy is hosting a series of public meetings about plans to improve the electrical system in the province. The power lines here are south of Red Deer.

OLDS — Plans to strengthen and revamp Alberta’s electric highway were unveiled to a small group of interested Olds and area residents Wednesday.

One in a series of 20 open houses sponsored by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) caught the attention of Didsbury resident Wanda Towbridge who made the effort to learn more about the government’s plans in the next 10-20 years.

The session shared information about plans and how the government plans to keep the lights on for Alberta and business.

“Power is a real issue these days. We sure need to keep our eyes open to what the possibilities are and where we’re headed with things like solar and wind power,” Towbridge said following her gathering process at the Olds College session.

“I know some people are worried about where the power is coming from and how much it’s going to cost in the future but for me the issue is will we have enough?”

Richard Way, AESO senior director of strategic projects, said demand continues to grow and creates pressure to upgrade 20-25-year-old power generating systems and build new ones.

“We have one of the highest growths in North America,” he said.

Electricity consumption in Alberta has grown by 28 per cent since 2000 and yearly peak demand growth is forecasted to average 3.4 per cent during the next 20 years.

The growth has been equal to adding two cities the size of Red Deer to the power system annually, an AESO information sheet says.

“We’re at kind of an interesting point on the supply side where there’s a significant shift in the next 10-20 years with far more renewable generation coming on far more coal emission energy coming on and at the same time there’s significant retirements of some of our aging fleet of generators,” Way said.

“We’ll need a significant shift in our transmission system to accommodate that.”

AESO has about $3.2 billion in transmission system reinforcements currently underway in Alberta.

In its role as planner of the transmission system for all Albertans, the AESO is currently investigating the need to reinforce the transmission system to enable wind generation projects to be reliably connected to the provincial grid and to supply electricity to industrial consumers, mostly in the pipeline industry, Way said.

He said the shift must be accomplished early enough to ensure the transmission will be there.

“There’s a lot of transmission in the north and great demand in the south,” he said.

Wind generation collection is important, Way said.

Currently there’s about 12,000 megawatts of total generation in Alberta now.

Way said there are enough interested developers lined up in Alberta to capture as much as 12,000 megawatts of wind alone.

However, the key is building lines and generation points to capture it.

“It’s not all in the south but in the Hanna area as well there’s interest in wind power,” he said.

AESO has identified the potential for a substantial increase in wind power development and demand for electricity throughout the Hanna region, in east Central Alberta as an example of renewable generation.

Towbridge said she’s impressed that planning is undeway.

“Now we need the politicians to act and put money into the projects otherwise we’ll be left in the dark,” she said.

Alberta also has large potential for concentrating solar power plants due to its natural endowment of high insolation values (hours of sunshine) – higher than Germany and France where solar applications have been increasing. The amount of solar energy available in Alberta varies widely by location in the province and season.

There is also large potential in Alberta for photovoltaic-based distributed energy for residential and small commercial applications.

Solar energy is variable in its occurrence and requires storage and or back-up generation.

Other information sessions are planned for Central Alberta in Rimbey on Aug. 18 at the Super 8 and Red Deer Aug. 20 at the Red Deer Lodge.

Times will be announced later.

jwilson@bprda.wpengine.com

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