Parker: COMFIT program review coming9/25/2012
Nova Scotia wind developers are still eyeing potential projects in this province, even though the government says there won’t be much room for large projects any time soon.
Dan Roscoe, chief operating officer of Scotian WindFields, said Monday an upcoming review of the province’s community feed-in tariff (COMFIT) program will help keep the momentum going in the renewable energy sector.
“We have to be more innovative and develop new industries and new applications, so it’s not just a one-time thing,” he told reporters at a feed-in tariff forum in Halifax.
Energy-storage technology is among the options that should be explored for getting more green energy onto the grid, Roscoe said.
Scotian WindFields of Dartmouth has been awarded six projects under the COMFIT program and hopes to have the first of them operating by late next summer.
Energy Minister Charlie Parker announced during the forum that a planned review of the COMFIT program is getting underway this fall.
“We are very proud of the program and its initial success. We are characterizing (this) as a tune-up to ensure that we are meeting our objectives.”
The program, which got underway a year ago, is designed to encourage small-scale renewable energy projects.
Developments must be majority owned by community groups, municipalities and First Nations.
They will sell their electricity to Nova Scotia Power at a fixed price based on rates set last year by the Utility and Review Board.
The province expects to get 100 megawatts of electricity from the program.
The Energy Department has approved 45 of the 100 projects that have been proposed so far. The majority are wind ventures, although there are some in-stream tidal and biomass.
Reuben Burge, president of RMSenergy Ltd., said COMFIT has worked well so far, but the review could improve it further.
“It may, in fact, be a way to enhance or allow different market participants who didn’t get an opportunity to participate — it may get them into this program now.”
Burge is helping the SPCA develop five wind turbine projects that have COMFIT approval.
A subsidiary of RMSenergy also operates the 51-megawatt Dalhousie Mountain wind farm in Pictou County.
The province has said COMFIT, coupled with contracts awarded this summer for three large-scale wind farms, will put the grid close to the 500-megawatt limit for renewable energy.
Energy Department officials told the forum it is difficult to add more green energy than that to the Nova Scotia Power system because wind is intermittent and must be backed up by another form of generation.
“We’re quite happy to get up to 500 megawatts,” Bruce Cameron, the department’s executive director of renewable and sustainable energy, told reporters.
“But going much further than that without seeing how the system can accommodate it? It seems to be a little prudent to take a pause.”
He said the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development on the lower Churchill River in Labrador will make it easier to add more renewables to the grid.
Transmission upgrades will be needed as part of the megaproject, slated to bring power to Nova Scotia and other markets via subsea cable starting in 2017.
Burge said it will likely be that same year before developers have another chance to get large-scale wind farms off the ground in this province.
“With or without lower Churchill, I think the opportunity is still here for large-scale wind. It more hinges on either Churchill or natural gas — some way to consume more renewables ourselves, and in a way that sells renewables.”
Roscoe said the province should have a backup plan in case Muskrat Falls doesn’t proceed.
“We have more resources that we’re not tapping into. We should be looking at a plan to develop those and export them to the market in New England that has such high demand, rather than just letting people pass through.”
The government has mandated that 25 per cent of electricity come from renewable targets by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020.
The province also has to come up with a 2030 plan because of a recent deal with Ottawa to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without closing coal-fired power plants early.
While the COMFIT study is underway, the Energy Department won’t be accepting new applications for wind projects of more than 50 kilowatts. Projects that have already been proposed are still being considered.
Cameron said recommendations from the review will likely be made to government during the first half of next year.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the government should review its entire renewable electricity plan, not just COMFIT. He said the plan’s “unaffordable” renewable energy targets are driving up power rates.
“Once again, the NDP government is trying to hide the true cost of their out-of-touch energy plan,” Baillie said in a news release.
(The Chronicle Herald)