Winds of Change: How the Wind Farms Built Today are Bringing a Cleaner Tomorrow

Everyone living in Saskatchewan is all too familiar with the feeling of the powerful prairie wind blowing in their face. But that relentless force is now being utilized like never before to serve a nobler purpose as a cornerstone of the province’s future renewable energy infrastructure.

SaskPower is taking on the challenge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 40 per cent by 2030. Although many new renewable technologies are presently being embraced to get us there, capitalizing on wind power is an integral aspect to turn this goal into a reality.

Saskatchewan currently has 241 megawatts (MW) of installed wind energy capacity but that number will soon rise exponentially as the plan to diversify the province’s supply mix with low-cost, emission free energy is fulfilled.1

The vision of a cleaner energy future includes adding up to 50 per cent of energy from renewable sources to the supply mix by 2030. Mark Peters, Director of Independent Power Producer (IPP) Development at SaskPower says that wind energy already accounts for about 5 per cent of the province’s total installed generation capacity and that they will likely be “tripling” current levels in a very short period of time.

“In 2021 we’ll be adding another 385 MW of wind and by 2024 we could be adding an additional 300 MW, so by 2024 we’ll be up to over 900 megawatts [which is] about 15 per cent,” Peters says.

While SaskPower has been taking decisive steps towards achieving its emissions targets, Peters says “how we get there is a bit of a journey because of technological change, other opportunities becoming available, and changing regulations.” Because there is “no silver bullet,” SaskPower is continuously evaluating forecasted energy demands to find the optimal supply mix so it can continue providing reliable and cost-efficient renewable energy.

“There’s benefits to having a diverse supply of power. Some of the power we have is dispatchable, so you can turn up or down to meet the demand for [electricity],” Peters says.

“There’s also power that’s purely renewable and non-greenhouse gas emitting like wind and solar, but those are variable and we need to understand what that means from an integration point of view [by asking,] ‘How do we deliver reliable power to our customers when the wind isn’t something we can control?’”

First blade at Golden South Wind Energy Facility near Assiniboia. Photo provided by SaskPower.

First blade at Golden South Wind Energy Facility near Assiniboia. Photo provided by SaskPower.

A significant portion of wind power added to the grid this year will come from the completion of the 200 MW Golden South Wind Energy Facility being built south of Assiniboia by the IPP Potentia Renewables.2 Although SaskPower is presently working with the private sector to meet its future goals, Peters says the Cypress and Centennial wind power facilities SaskPower commissioned in the early 2000s helps the organization understand the developer’s perspective.

“What that allowed us to do is to gain an appreciation for what developers go through, what risks they’re taking, and the challenge they’re taking on,” Peters says.

Having been involved in these earlier projects, Peters has also seen the technological changes over the past decade that have allowed for wind power to become an increasingly competitive form of energy as wind turbines have gotten larger causing their generation capacity to “almost triple.”

“The machines are getting taller with longer blades which allows them to be more efficient and extract more kinetic energy from the wind,” Peters says. “Also, as machines have gotten bigger they benefit from economies of scale and manufacturers are able to build these machines at a lower cost per unit of energy.”

Peters says this past experience helped SaskPower to prepare for holding a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process and that procurement allows SaskPower to benefit from tapping into a knowledgeable private sector to reach its goals while ensuring “extremely competitive pricing.”

“[Developers] have their eyes on Saskatchewan not only because we’re transforming our grid and generation mix but also because we’ve got an excellent wind resource here. We have an attractive business climate and there’s less risk in doing business with a crown corporation,” Peters says.

While SaskPower already has a handful of projects coming online this year, it is also currently evaluating RFP proposals for up to 300 MW of future wind power facilities as well. Nineteen companies submitted proposals to the final phase of the two-stage procurement with the results of the competition expected to be announced sometime in 2021.

Industry West independently spoke to one of the RFP applicants PNE Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the internationally operating PNE Group, a “clean energy solutions provider,” which is proposing two projects near Eston and Watson, Sask.

“The positive business environment of Saskatchewan, the readiness to integrate renewable sources into [its] energy sector and the good wind resource has led us to initiate project development [here],” says Konstantin Heinzelmann, chief executive officer at PNE Canada.

Heinzelmann not only recognizes the importance of SaskPower’s energy goals for “affirming responsible resource management and a drive towards innovation,” but that harvesting wind power is ‘very compatible” with Saskatchewan’s existing farming activities.

“The turbine itself consumes land only for its foundation and the adjacent crane pad, crop can be grown and harvested right up to the turbine, and there is no contamination or negative effect on the surrounding land,” Heinzelmann says.

“In fact, farming communities have historically driven and supported the growth of wind energy around the world by utilizing power for the milling of grain and irrigation.”

Public opinion polling done by the Canadian Wind Energy Association in Saskatchewan in 2018 found that 84 per cent of respondents supported policies encouraging wind development and 78 per cent supported the construction of wind farms near their communities.3,4

PNE Canada is developing the Eston and Watson projects with the support of Dillon Consulting and Millennium Land LTD. Heinzelmann believes that cooperating with experienced local partners is essential for projects to develop successfully because every project and province is unique and that wind farms are long-term investments which add value and jobs to communities.

Peters remarked that SaskPower is taking on an interesting challenge by transforming the electrical grid in a very short period of time and that the journey is just beginning.

“The production and delivery of electricity is an amazing machine that we’ve got here in the province with many moving parts and we are working hard to take on the challenge to address what the regulations require and what our customers are asking of us in many different ways,” Peters says.

“Ten years from now you’ll see quite a different electricity supply system here in Saskatchewan because of the transformation that we are going through today.”

This article was written using individual interviews the author conducted with those quoted, and in no way is it intended to represent, convey, or express SaskPower’s relationships with its proponents.

1System Map, SaskPower, https://www.saskpower.com/Our-Power-Future/Our-Electricity/Electrical-System/System-Map
2Golden South Wind Project, Potentia Renewables, https://potentiarenewables.com/project/golden-south-wind-project/
3Saskatchewan, Canadian Renewable Energy Association, https://canwea.ca/wind-energy/saskatchewan/#:~:text=The%20province%20currently%20has%20241,Golden%20South%20Wind%20Energy%20Facility
4Omnibus Results, Canadian Renewable Energy Association, https://canwea.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Insightrix-Research-Saskatchewan-Polling-November2018-released.pdf