Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wind Power and Wood Waste: New Energy Projects in Quebec

The Quebec government made it official yesterday: $4 billion in wind power projects around the province will proceed to the next stage of development in hopes of producing 6 Tw of electricity by 2015. Private consortiums get the lion’s share of the 15 projects, chosen from 66 submissions.

Hydro-Quebec, the public utility, will oversee and buy the electricity, but is involved in the construction of only a few projects. That has prompted criticism from several opposition politicians who decry such a large involvement of the private sector. Not only has the current provincial government been eager to enter into public private partnerships, Hydro Quebec, which was formed in the 1960s by nationalizing private utilities, has long be a symbol of Quebec know-how and identity and should remain resolutely public, they say . But environmental groups in general applauded the announcement.

Hydro Quebec will buy the electricity for an average price of 8,7 cents/ kWh, to which will be added 1,3 cent for integrating the power in the existing hydroelectric system, and .5 cents for storing the electricity. The projects still must pass several obstacles. In some cases, they must be approved by the agency regulating the use of agricultural land, while two others in rapidly suburbanizing areas south of Montreal are expected to be opposed by neighbors.

The wind power announcement came the same day as researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke reported a seemingly economical way to use waste from the forest industry to produce both ethanol and biodiesel fuel. Using branches and imperfect logs from poplars which now sell from $50 to $80 a dry tonne, the researchers used two separate procedures to produce the fuel, as well as an adhesive that could be used in making fiberboard.

Both news items are interesting, and even hopeful. If we are to avoid the massive breakdown of society because of oil prices and shortages--as James Howard Kunstler and othes predict--we must make sure that electricity production continues without interruption. This will probably mean a massive shift toward renewable sources, as is happening in Europe, particularly Denmark and Germany. It is no accident that German companies are deeply involved in the Quebec projects. We would do well to devote resources to research in these fields so we don't end up buying the technology from elsewhere. And that, of course, what makes the forest waste product research so valuable.

BTW, it looks like the wind power project I mentioned earlier is not among the ones given the go-ahead.

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