Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Clean Power

How Wind Energy Is Subsidizing Albertan Ratepayers

A recent Pembina Institute fact sheet discusses how wind energy is subsidizing Albertan ratepayers. The author, Ben Thibault, said that during 2013 Alberta’s electricity was 65% less expensive when wind was generating over 600 MW than when production fell below 300 MW. He also had some interesting insights into other wind sector issues.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 14.58.58

During 2013, the average price for wind energy was 5.5 cents in Alberta. This is lower than hydro (9.8 cents), natural gas (8.3 cents), coal (7.7 cents), and peaker (21.4 cents).

“When you build more wind into the market, it does look like it drives down the power pool price,” said Thibault. “That is not something that generators are too enthusiastic about. It undercuts the amount of revenue they’re able to bring in for their energy, which is why you’ll see a push back from generators on this issue, but it appears to benefit consumers.”

Screenshot 2014-12-01 15.13.11

Though intermittency is a problem that will remain until the large-scale deployment of battery storage, it occurs with many energy sources. A large coal facility, for example, will be operating 75% to 80% of the time, but they go down very quickly without warning.

“A coal facility is a much larger energy capacity that will suddenly come down off the system, because of the size of these plants. Whereas  if the wind stops, smaller chunks of energy are lost,” said Thibault. “The amount of wind that we currently have on the system doesn’t suggest there are necessarily any back-ups specifically for wind energy.”

He added that Alberta’s weather patterns are such that it is often easier to predict when wind energy will drop than when a coal facility’s power will drop.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 15.19.46

Most of Alberta’s new generation comes from one of two fuel sources. Though wind is often as cheap, generators usually prefer natural gas because the profit margin is bigger and revenues are more certain.

“If we become very reliant on natural gas for our electricity, as we’re expected to, the volatile pricing of natural gas will dictate our electricity prices,” said Thibault. “This would be good for the natural gas generator, who sees higher revenues if their costs increase. But, if we spread out our reliance across a broad diversity of sources including wind, that would buffer the consumer against those energy price increases.”

It would also help Alberta’s emissions, which, due to the oil sands, are the worst in Canada.

“Coal is getting phased out very gradually over time. That is going to give us a small amount of emissions reductions through the late 2020s. From 2030 onwards emission rise consistently,” said Thibault. “By 2050 the electrical sector is expected to have the highest carbon emissions of any point in Alberta’s history. Alberta needs to use more non-emitting sources like wind, solar, geothermal and hydro.”

The Pembina Institute is aware that there have been many complaints about wind energy. Thibault was the lead author of the 2013 Pembina report, Survey of complaints received by relevant authorities regarding operating wind energy in Alberta. Almost all of the complaints they were made BEFORE the turbines were erected. They were made by people who were concerned about the impact wind farms would bring to their area. There were only three exceptions that had issues AFTER the turbines were built. There were not any post-construction complaints in the Alberta Utilities Commission’s (AUC) records of contacts, which has 31,000 letters on various utility issues.

“Complaints usually came from the proposal or construction phase, so there were definitely people who were concerned, before the projects were built,” Thibault said.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 15.17.35

How is this possible when, for example, 86 Ontario municipalities declared they are no longer willing hosts to renewable energy projects? 

“It might have something to do with the way the landowners interact with their land in Alberta. It is as a livelihood, not a vacation property for people fleeing the cities,” said Thibault. “Virtually all the windfarms in Alberta are going up on agricultural land, whether that’s farmland or ranching land. The land is a revenue source for the people that live there and wind energy is another new revenue source for those landowners.”

Unlike coal and natural gas facilities, which are major contributors to GHG, the vast majority of wind farms go through a public hearing process. The reason being that, in Alberta, only people living within two kilometers of the project automatically get standing. Anyone outside that distance has to explain why they should be allowed to speak. As most fossil fuel facilities are built in a strip mine area, this provision had allowed many to dispense with hearings. However, virtually every wind farm is within two miles of some dwelling.

Screenshot 2014-12-01 15.22.18

Though municipal setbacks are often 500 meters to a kilometer from houses, depending on the municipality, Thibault has not heard many complaints. When Alberta’s winds are strong, the wind itself often drowns out other sounds. People are more likely to hear the distant wooshing of a turbines on milder days. Some Halkirk residents find the lights on wind turbines a useful substitute for street light.

“This certainly differs from what we hear from other jurisdictions,” said Thibault. “But it could be that there are plenty of other jurisdictions out there are just like Alberta, but you don’t hear about them.”

All photos courtesy David Dodge, The Pembina Institute. The graph was taken from the Pembina Institute Fact Sheet How solar and wind lower your power bill, by Ben Thibault.

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.


You May Also Like


Farmers don't buy spraying drones or hire drone spraying services because of the environmental benefits, of course. They don't need to justify the use...


We've already manufactured an awful lot of steel. There are hundreds of billions of tons of the stuff lying around, much of it obsolete.


Boston's pending green building code is an important element of many challenges that Wu will need to solve for Boston's Green New Deal to...

Clean Power

We've mined enormous amounts of iron and coal in order to build infrastructure to extract, process, refine, and distribute fossil fuels, and we're going...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.