Wind power is not quite an energy cure all

When wind power goes head-to-head with hydroelectricity, there really is no competition; hydropower is easier and cheaper to produce, said Janet…

When wind power goes head-to-head with hydroelectricity, there really is no competition; hydropower is easier and cheaper to produce, said Janet Patterson of the Yukon Energy Corporation.

“People think that the Yukon would be a great place to have wind power because we’re so windy but the wind tends to be localized,” said Patterson.

“You can have a good source of wind on one mountain and not another.

“The challenge is to find enough wind.”

The two wind turbines on Haeckel Hill in Whitehorse are only 20 per cent effective, she said, and to be economically viable they need to be at least 33 per cent effective.

Another problem with the wind turbines is that their rotor blades ice up in the winter causing mechanical failure.

“We’ve tried heating the blades and we’ve tried special paint but nothing keeps all the ice away,” said Patterson.

Finally, she said, hydroelectricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour while wind power costs 30 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“The economics just aren’t there,” said Patterson.

“If we were burning diesel all the time, then wind power would make more sense because diesel fuel is so expensive, but we already have a cheap and ‘green’ source of energy in hydropower so the economics just aren’t there.”

Northwestel, however, is in a position to take advantage of wind power.

In June of last year, the telephone company installed a wind turbine at the remote Quiet Lake microwave site located off South Canol Road between Johnson’s Crossing and Ross River.

The alternative energy project is showing signs of success, said Northwestel spokesperson Anne Kennedy.

The microwave radio equipment at the site is powered by large rechargeable batteries, which in the past were charged periodically by diesel generators.

Since the wind turbine was installed, any available wind energy is used first to charge the batteries; this delays the start of the diesel generators and saves Northwestel money in diesel costs.

After only a few months of turbine operation, Northwestel workers visiting the site found that diesel fuel consumption had been cut approximately in half, reducing costs by more than $1,100 during that time period.

The company estimates that at that rate, the wind turbine would produce cost savings of approximately $5,000 per year, depending on the price of fuel.

“We are hoping that this will prove to be a win-win project, both environmentally and financially,” said Northwestel’s president, Paul Flaherty, in a release.

“Cost savings should result from reduced reliance on diesel fuel at the site, fewer trips to fly in fuel, and less wear and tear on our diesel engines.

“The use of a completely renewable energy source at this site should also be good for the environment, because less fuel will be needed for our generators and for transportation of diesel.”

The company will evaluate the performance of the Quiet Lake wind turbine again this spring after workers are able to fly into the site.

The Quiet Lake microwave site provides telecommunications for a highway maintenance camp, emergency services such as RCMP and ambulance and some high frequency radio users in the area.

“The wind turbine idea could be used at other remote sites as well,” said Flaherty in the release, however, Kennedy said the technology doesn’t suit every Northwestel site.

“They have to be installed in areas where you definitely get dependable, reliable, air currents — so that doesn’t suit every site,” she said.

“We would tend to use this type of technology at sites that are less active, more remote and have a dependable wind source.”