Sunday, September 03, 2006

Using wind to power the nuclear renaissance in Canada

In my July 31 post, I said the Harper government could solve its Kyoto problems by doubling the Wind Power Production Incentive (WPPI) to 2,000 megawatts and extending it to other forms of clean power production, including nuclear.

Why would this solve the government’s problems? Doubling the WPPI would provide financial support to a form of energy that no one disagrees with (in principle). According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, it would kick-start the installation of untold megawatts of wind energy. However, for reasons I went into in my June 2 post, I doubt that even this generous financial support would result in a huge infusion of wind energy into Canadian electricity systems. (We would see a lot of NIMBY battles; just ask Enbridge how its wind projects are moving.)

But that’s not the point. Wind is a hugely visible form of generation. Everyone knows about the windmill at the CNE in Toronto. It’s a conversation piece, cited by every green advocate as the wave of the future. (Never mind that it’s only 750 kilowatts and that it doesn’t generate anything when the wind isn’t blowing—as I noticed as I drove by it at around 11:00 a.m. on July 26 of this year, in the middle of a suffocating Toronto heat wave with every operational air conditioner in the city running at full blast.)

So even if doubling the WPPI resulted in only, say, 500 mW of new wind installations, these 500 mW would be tangible, visible evidence of the government’s support for wind and its commitment to addressing climate change and clean air.

Most people don’t realize that these massive windmills contribute only a tiny proportion to our electricity supply mix. This is why the WPPI should be extended to include other forms of clean generation. This support would help buy down the risk of new nuclear projects, which is where we would achieve by far the biggest reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) and pollution emissions.

Could Harper successfully sell such a policy move to the pro-Kyoto constituency in Quebec, whose support could help him turn his minority government into a majority? I bet he could.

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