Nova Scotia's Community Feed-in Tariff, or ComFIT, launches September 19th when the Canadian maritime province opens the application process. Applicants must jump several hurdles, including a preliminary connection request, to successfully apply for limited space on the province's antiquated grid.
The ComFIT program target is 100 MW of renewables by 2015, though the program is not limited to that amount. Provincial observers expect a flood of applications. Nevertheless, grid limitations, strict controls on who can and cannot participate, and last minute restrictions on the definition of what is and is not a small wind turbine are expected to slow development for several years.
Brennan Vogel, Ecology Action Centre, one of the intervenors in the UARB proceedings, said the program is "small, but a limited step in the right direction."
Nova Scotia will pay the highest tariffs for small wind in North America and the highest rates for in-stream tidal power in the world.
The tariff schedule has been significantly revised since first proposed by consultants to the Utility and Review Board (UARB).
However, the program is not without its critics.
Scotian Windfields, a developer of community-owned wind projects criticized the Ministry of Energy's effort to limit the use of small wind turbines in the program at the last minute.
In a scathing letter to Minister of Energy Charlie Parker (NDP-Pictou West), Scotian Windfields' chief executive Barry Zwicker accused the government of favoring a local manufacturer of a 50-kW wind turbine over another Canadian supplier.
Seaforth Energy manufactures a 15-meter diameter wind turbine based on the old AOC 15/50 design. Seaforth is located in an industrial suburb of the capital city, Halifax. The Seaforth wind turbine intercepts 177 square meters of the windstream.
Scotian Windfields had planned to use the Canadian-built Endurance E3120 Series 50 kW wind turbine. The E3120 is a 19-meter diameter wind turbine based on a Quebec design. The rotor on the E3120 is much larger than that on the Seaforth turbine and sweeps 290 square meters.
Both turbines are "rated" at 50 kW, and both turbines have been on the market for some time.
Wind turbines can be "rated" at any wind speed. In the wind industry these "ratings" have little real meaning. The most significant parameter for conventional wind turbines, those where the rotor spins about a horizontal axis, is rotor diameter. It is the rotor diameter — or more correctly the area that the rotor sweeps — that determines how much energy the wind turbine captures.
Scotian Windfields argues that if the government had intended to limit the size of the wind turbine based on rotor swept area, it should have said so. However, the government didn't and instead limited the turbines in the program based on the generator "rating."
The Ministry of Energy's action was surprising since in testimony to the UARB it argued at length over the semantics of whether the word tariffs (plural) meant two tariffs or more than two. Toby Couture, an expert witness for the Ecology Action Centre had recommended that the wind tariffs should include more than two tranches to prevent gaming. The Ministry insisted on its interpretation of the semantics that the word tariffs meant only two tranches and the Board agreed with them.
There is no evidence that Scotian Windfields or Endurance were "gaming" generator size. The wind industry literature is littered with examples of manufacturers "gaming" generator size but this is always to give a generator a higher rating relative to the rotor diameter than a lower rating. And this has always been done to take advantage of subsidies, such as the US Investment Tax Credit, that are based on "generator" size.
In fact, the Quebec precursor to Endurance, PG Energie, was praised for the design's conservative 50 kW rating with a relatively large diameter rotor as a example that should be emulated by other manufacturers.
Since the Ministry's decision, Scotian Windfields has abandoned its planned small turbine projects and will only develop projects using large wind turbines.
If Nova Scotia's target for the ComFIT program is fully developed with wind energy, the 100 MW in the program will generate about 1.5 percent of the province's 12 TWh of consumption.
A significant feature of the ComFIT program is that it requires both Nova Scotia Power and municipal electric utilities to develop and maintain a publicly available database that identifies available connection capacity for each substation in the province by September 31, 2011.
Connection to aging and antiquated distribution systems are a problem across the continent. If a developer doesn't know where they can connect, they can't plan a project. However, in many jurisdictions information on connection capacity is considered a state secret. Nova Scotia could be blazing a path to increased transparency by pioneering open access to records of connection capacity held by electric utilities, both public and private.
The ComFIT program will be reviewed in 18 months says the ComFIT program administrator, Krystal Therien. The review could begin sooner if necessary.