North Wind: Nunavut and Yukon Are Hoping Wind Turbines Will Reduce Dependency on Diesel Plants

Article excerpt

The reverberating hum of a diesel plant generating electrical power is a familiar sound to many who have spent time in remote, northern Canadian communities.

Less familiar is the sight of wind turbines spinning. But renewable energy installations are sprouting in Nunavut and Yukon, supplementing or even replacing diesel generators. Only a handful of wind and wind-diesel hybrid power generating systems now operate north of the 60th parallel in Canada, but research into future potential is under way.

"Wind power production is now a mature technology and becomes more and more feasible each time the price of oil goes up," says Paul Pynn, an engineer with Atlantic Orient Canada Inc., which supplied the 50-kW wind turbine at Rankin Inlet. "This is especially true in the north where the cost of transporting and storing diesel makes the price of delivering electricity very high."

Yukon Energy Corporation has two wind turbines, one 150 kW and the other 660 kW, which feed into the territory's main hydroelectric power grid. Getting into wind energy has not been simple--the technology was originally developed for milder climates and had to be modified to withstand Yukon winters. A particular challenge is combating the heavy rime ice that builds up on turbine blades and impedes power output.

Nunavut Power Corporation has two wind-diesel hybrid installations (at Rankin Inlet and Kugluktuk) and buys power from a private wind-diesel installation at Cambridge Bay.

The two wind turbines at Kugluktuk were out of service as of May 2002, requiring repairs. But the Rankin Inlet plant has been using wind power since November 2000 in what is known as a "low penetration" system, where at least one diesel generator runs continuously. The wind turbines cannot supply all the power that is required but are used to reduce diesel consumption.

The Nunavut wind installations are still primarily research projects, rather than fully operational power sources, says engineer Robert Patrick. Power from the Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay installations combined account for just 0.2 percent of the total energy currently produced in Nunavut.

Wind energy has some considerable advantages over conventional diesel generators. On the economic front, the Rankin Inlet system displaces about 41,000 litres of diesel fuel annually. …