Fraser Forum

Wind and solar power makes sense in far-flung places

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I’m typically skeptical about proposals for massive, widespread deployment of wind and solar power. My problem with the idea is that these sources are intermittent, meaning we need to maintain 100 per cent backup power that we don’t intend to run much of the time, in the absence of better storage.

These power sources are also more expensive than conventional power (even before you factor in the cost of that backup power that’s idling a lot) and we don’t really know how our existing electrical grids are going to manage this intermittency. And if our current grids need massive rebuilding, we’re talking about very serious money that tax and ratepayers are going to see in their already too-high power bills.

However, as I’ve also said repeatedly, I think that there’s a place for wind and solar power, and that’s in sunny, windy and remote locations that don’t currently have (or have insufficient) conventional power, are far from high-powered urban generating stations, and may not have enough demand for building a conventional power plant.

According to reporter Sunny Freeman writing for the Financial Post, the mining sector is latching onto the remote-renewable idea aggressively as they explore ever more remote locations, and seek to offer benefits to local communities and build their welcome.

Freeman cites an Ernst and Young report that there’s plenty of capital for mining companies and others to work with: “About US$6 trillion of investment capital is expected to be deployed into renewable energy by 2035—more than three times the amount in conventional energy infrastructure.”

And it’s not just in the deserts of the south that miners are seeing the promise of renewables. Freeman notes that:

Rio Tinto aims to generate 10 per cent of its energy demand at the Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories from a nearby wind farm, while Glencore Xstrata is partnering with Tugliq Power to have wind power meet half of its energy needs at the Raglan Mine.

Sure, some of what’s driving this is concerns about future greenhouse gas emissions and carbon taxes, but it’s equally clear that the companies are looking to use renewables in far-flung lands to save money, buy them social approval, and to increase profitability. That’s the right role for renewables.


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