Air Power

Article excerpt

Despite government inaction, more Canadians are turning to green energy from windmills

Turning the winter wind into electricity that heats your house sounds like an idea pulled out of thin air. And that is exactly what it is.

Reliable wind-generated electricity is no longer an unrealistic dream. Over the last decade, wind power in Canada has been gaining public popularity, so much so that its growth has been termed a "Canadian wind rush".

Residential customers in Calgary have recently been given the opportunity to purchase wind power through Greenmax, a programme offered by Enmax, Calgary's power utility. The programme was started in September 1998, and already has the support of 1000 of Enmax's 300,000 customers.

For an extra monthly fee of $7.50, residential customers can direct Enmax to purchase wind-generated electricity instead of conventional coal-fired electricity. The additional fee is charged because the price for wind power is presently twice that for coal-generated electricity. Wind energy advocates say the price difference reflects higher subsidies for fossil fuel energy and failure to consider the environmental and health costs of fossil fuel extraction and power generation. Costs would likely decline if wind energy became more popular.

An Environics poll conducted in 1995 supports this. It showed that 82 percent of those interviewed said they would purchase wind-generated electricity "if it were as cheap, or nearly as cheap, as electricity from conventional sources."

Since 1997, Environment Canada has committed to purchase enough green power from Enmax to supply nine of their buildings in Alberta. A total of 2.2 million kilowatt-hours of wind-generated electricity, equivalent to the electricity used by approximately 250 homes, will be purchased each year for ten years. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2000 tonnes annually.

Under the agreement, Enmax is responsible for ensuring that power suppliers are generating electricity according to contract specifications. These include maintaining EcoLogo certification under Environment Canada's Environmental Choice Programme.

The Ecologo certification requires that Enmax's Greenmax programme be offered in a way that "improves energy efficiency; reduces hazardous by-products; ... or provides some other environmental benefit." The Greenmax programme must also meet "any applicable industry specific safety and performance standards," and Enmax must "submit annual attestations confirming their continued compliance. …