Green power

Alternative sources of energy are becoming big business in the province

Say Alberta and energy in the same sentence and what springs to mind? Yes, Alberta oil. But the winds of change are brewing, ushering in alternative forms of energy production that are environmentally sustainable and diversifying the oil-heavy economy.

Albertans are gearing up to turn everything from straw to wind to garbage into energy. According to the Inventory of Major Alberta Projects, $5.4 billion worth of alternative energy projects are either in the proposal stage or under construction.

Several factors are driving the increased interest in alternative energy, not least of which is provincial support. For example, the province has introduced a $239-million bio-energy plan to create additional value from the agriculture and forestry sectors.

"Bio-energy, particularly from forestry waste, is a textbook example of a value-added opportunity," Minister of Energy Mel Knight said in a press release. "These grants will increase investment in the bio-energy marketplace and help unlock other ways that Alberta can get more out of all its resources."

The plan includes two grant programs developed to assist with developing a market for bio-energy products and to help companies gain access to that market.

There are $2.3 billion worth of biofuel projects on the Inventory of Major Alberta Projects. Strathmore's CR Fuels has two megaprojects planned-a $325-million complex in the Taber region and a $326-million Bio-Village north of Strathmore. The Bio-Village, which will be co-owned by Cattleland Feedyards Ltd., will produce biodiesel from canola, ethanol from wheat, and biomass power from the manure produced at the cattle feedlot and by-products of biodiesel facility.

Other biofuel projects include Canadian Bioenergy Corp.'s $90-million biodiesel manufacturing facility in the Fort Saskatchewan area, expected to reach completion in 2009; Greenlab Energy Canada Inc.'s $190-million biofuel and extraction facility in Stettler; and Expander Energy Inc.'s $70-million gasification facility to create biodiesel from wood waste near Edmonton.

Expectations for wind

The province's 2007 decision to lift a cap on wind power generation is one factor in an increased interest in wind farm development in the province. But David Huggill, western Canada policy manager for the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), says that while lifting the cap has certainly played a role in the $2.7 billion worth of wind energy projects proposed or under construction, the wind power industry has been relatively strong here for a while thanks to deregulation.

"Even when we had the 900 MW threshold in place, at any one time there was between 2,500 and 3,000 MW of power that were sort of getting ready for their needs application," he explains.

Twelve wind power projects are in the proposal stages, ranging in size from Wind Power Inc.'s 12 MW Prairie Home Wind Farm in the County of Warner to Greengate Power Corp.'s 300 MW Blackspring Ridge wind power project in Vulcan County. Only one farm is under construction: Windrise Power Inc.'s 99 MW wind farm south of Fort Macleod is expected to reach completion this year.

As the Canadian trade association for the wind power industry, CanWEA is obviously pleased with the amount of interest in wind in Alberta. But Huggill notes that we may not see all the projects on the books reach completion.

"Just because somebody decides they want to generate electricity, there's no guarantee they're going to be able to do that," he explains. A number of steps have to be taken before construction of a wind farm can begin, including environmental assessments, site assessments, and community consultations.

The ability to access technology is also important.

"Currently, that's becoming a little problematic for people that don't have existing contractual relationships with turbine manufacturers, just because there's a shortage of turbines globally," Huggill says.

The turbine shortage is one of the challenges of a rapidly growing global industry that has increased by about 32 per cent each year over the past five years. Canada has more than 1,800 MW of wind energy production. If all the projects, proposed and under construction in Alberta go through, national production will almost double.

Waste not, want not

Red Deer County is planning to put its garbage to good use. The county, along with 14 partner municipalities, has formed the Central Waste Management Commission, which is working with PlascoEnergy Group to bring a $90-million waste-to-energy facility to the region.

The facility will transform 200 tonnes of solid waste into power each day. Ottawa-based PlascoEnergy will finance the construction of the plant and the participating municipalities will supply the waste.

In a nutshell, PlascoEnergy's technology uses heat to create a synthetic gas from garbage. The gas is then used to power internal combustion engines that generate electricity. One tonne of waste-the amount produced by the average family in a year-generates enough electricity to provide that same family with power for 55 days.

"Two hundred tonnes a day is going to provide power for a lot of homes," says Frank Peck, project manager for the Central Waste Management Commission.

The decision to partner with other municipalities was made out of necessity. The county simply doesn't have the population required to generate 200 tonnes of solid waste each day.

"Edmonton, I think, is looking at a 270-tonne-a-day plant that will develop methane and ethanol," says Peck, illustrating how large a municipality has to be to produce 200 tonnes of waste a day.

Construction should begin in fall 2009 and finish within a year. PlascoEnergy plants are constructed of 100-tonne modules built off-site. PCL is the contractor.

The people producing the waste will benefit from the greener power.

"The electricity is being dumped into the local grid, not into a transmission line," Peck says. "The power is going to be consumed by those that are taking on the program."

Red Deer County will be the first full-fledged PlascoEnergy facility on the continent. Currently, PlascoEnergy operates a 200-tonne-a-day demonstration plant in Ottawa; plans are in the works for a 400-tonne-a-day commercial facility in that city. Los Angeles and Vancouver have also expressed interest.

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