Why’s There No Wind in Our Financial Sails? We’re the Untapped Windiest Province

Newfoundland & Labrador has the least installed capacity of wind turbines in the country. Windiest province. Least turbines. Interesting.

Article By Daniel McLean

Newfoundland and Labrador is windy as hell. Not just, “lord Jesus by’s, some gale blowin’ today,” but scientifically, unambiguously, really, windy.

If you take a visit to the Government of Canada’s publicly available wind atlas website, you can see a nice colourful map of the average wind speeds across our country. The lowest speeds are a relaxed blue, the highest an energetic red. There’s a region of good winds off the coast of BC, a bountiful reddish-orange chunk making up Hudson Bay, and a goldmine around the easternmost province. Ours.

The waters surrounding Newfoundland and the coast of Labrador are a red sea of high wind speed on the map, and as we all know, the wind on the ground isn’t half bad either. No real revelations here.

The oddity arises when the government’s wind atlas map is compared with the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s installed capacity map (also publicly available). Scanning the provinces in CANWEA’s map, Newfoundland & Labrador has the least installed capacity of wind turbines in the country. Windiest province. Least turbines. Interesting.

At 55 MW, our province has almost four times less installed wind energy capacity than the next ranked province. And which is that next province on the list? PEI, with an installed wind energy capacity of 204 MW. Prince Edward Island, population of 150,000. Newfoundland & Labrador, population of 530,000.

So, a province with a little more than a quarter of the population of ours has almost four times the wind power. The math is approximated and this isn’t a lesson in fractions, but you get the point: that factor of four should be the other way around. It doesn’t take an expert to come to that conclusion. Or a report. Or a review. It’s common sense.

Now, it’s overly simplistic to say “Okay let’s put up a bunch of wind turbines tomorrow and the province’s economy will be saved and everyone will be happy and never complain about how windy it is here ever again.” It’s also unfair to say that our province is entirely to blame. Europe is years ahead of all of North America when it comes to wind power, especially at sea.

The point here is that Newfoundland & Labrador has a golden opportunity to be a leader in Canada for this renewable resource. The technology is available, the installation and construction period is straightforward, and the environmental impact is benign – no sticking pipes in the seabed, no prehistoric sludge, no burning. Pretty much no nothing.

Like the rest of Canada and the world, our province will eventually have to transition to a clean carbon economy. Wind turbines could be the beacon of change for this province’s energy horizon. It’s always going to be windy as hell here, let’s start taking advantage of it.

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11 Comments

  • Muskrat Falls has no buyers for their electricity and you’re talking about building MORE power capacity? STUPID STUPID STUPID No wonder this province is hurtling towards bankruptcy.

  • @David: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article. And thanks for drawing that other piece to my attention, that’s definitely a real concern and one that needs to be taken into consideration. I come from the technical/science side of wind turbines, so the main purpose of my article is just to get a serious conversation going in NL (which I agree would have been a better conversation to have a few years ago before Muskrat Falls! But here we are). Nova Scotia and New Brunswick both have fairly aggressive renewables targets for 2020, so hopefully these trends continue and other nearby provinces follow suit. I am a strong believer (as are many others) that the not-so-distant future will involve a more drastic and widespread shift to renewables, and I think that Newfoundland and Labrador has the potential to put itself in a position to embrace that change and prosper while doing so.

  • Great article Dan – indisputable that there is a lot of potential here for wind power. The big question is whether there is anyone who will buy the power, as we will have a surplus of power once Muskrat Falls comes online. It seems there aren’t many interested buyers on the mainland, unfortunately: http://www.thetelegram.com/news/local/that-dam-project-muskrat-falls-markets-go-poof-178865/

    Wind would have been a better solution to our energy problem a few years ago, before Muskrat Falls was forced upon us, but I don’t think that there will be a market for a big wind power installation in the near future. It would be great for NL if provinces like Nova Scotia or New Brunswick were required to use more renewable energy!

  • It’s worth noting that wind turbines in general perform best NOT in the places with the most wind … But instead with the steadiest and most consistent wind conditions. This is a point where newfoundland’s gusty wind conditions struggle.

    Additionally, places like Europe and PEI have got to look to wind as an option for renewable energy production because they lack access a more consistent and reliable renewable source — hydroelectric.

    Finally, offshore wind in Newfoundland makes very little sense because of the availability of uninhabited, or minimally inhabit land. This is an opportunity that densely populated Europe could only dream of.

  • @Matt: You present a valid point, although I would say it is slightly premature to argue the limits of how much wind you can add to the electrical system when our current system has only 55 MW. From the nature of your response, I am assuming you appreciate how little 55 MW is. Germany, for example, faces this issue because they produce so much wind power in the North and don’t yet have the transmission capacity to transport the electricity to the more power-hungry South. But that’s Germany – a country with an installed capacity of over 45,000 MW of wind power. My article would be very different if we were in a position to be concerned with such a capacity limit, but we’re not. Regarding your “it does nothing for our current needs comment,” that is fine and true to say, but this proposal isn’t supposed to address your current electricity bill. In order to meaningfully implement commercial scale wind energy in the province, there is development and project design time that needs to be initiated now. The purpose of this article is to start a discussion and start looking at wind power as a viable option for the province’s energy future. So thank you for engaging in the discussion!

    P.S. Projects like the Maritime Link are connecting our province to the mainland, so while NL is indeed oddly isolated, this is no longer a serious hurdle going forward.

  • It’s a progressive idea that would signal a change from fossil fuel based energy, therefore it will never happen here, which is a shame

  • The truth is, there is a limitation to how much wind you can have on an electrical system. Wind is what they call “non-dispatchable”, meaning that we cannot control the output of the wind turbines. Normal sources of generation are controlled, so that generation matches the demand. This is not possible with wind.

    Once we are connected to the mainland, there will be some market to sell wind. But unfortunately, it does nothing for our needs right now.

  • Great article! Sounds like we need someone with capital to champion these projects and show the real-life benefit to locals. Gotta lead by example and show value on all fronts!

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