Saturday, October 29, 2011

Site C and Natural Gas

Follow-up to my last post...

Money is pouring into Kitimat. There are at least 2 players (Shell and KM) now with plans to build LNG plants (that's Liquified Natural Gas). We're talking billions of dollars here. There will be a pipeline connecting the gas fields of NE BC to the new plants, and a shipping terminal to enable tankers to come in and out of the port at Kitimat. Destination: Asia.

To transport natural gas you need to compress and refrigerate it. That's what the plants are for. The freighters will be specially-designed as well (these are not oil freighters). Compression/Liquification requires enormous amounts of (electrical) energy. Estimates of the energy required are a bit hard to come by, but apparently are well in excess of 3,000 GWh by 2015 and another 3,000 GWh by 2017. Expect these figures to rise.
OK, so where is this electricity going to come from? BC does not currently have this kind of spare supply.

1 giant windmill = 5 GWh.
Site C = 5,100 GWh (~1000 windmills).

So we have a few options here:

1. put up 600 windmills to generate 3000 GWh. Turbines must be placed at least 10 blade diameters apart due to the turbulence they create. If I take an average blade length of 30m, that means the mills must be put 600m apart. Usually they would be put much further apart so you don't get something like this:

[a large windfarm with minimal spacing.]

Large windfarms are typically spread over 100's of square kms. For some perspective, 600 windmills is a very, very, very large windfarm. It would be up there amongst the biggest in the world.
2. Use site C. Although this likely will not be enough.

3. Use the natural gas itself. Build a thermal generating plant.

The end result will likely be some combination of all three. There are already wind operators eyeing the opportunity.

Some points to consider:
- Any wind farm or thermal plant built by a 3rd party will have to sell their electricity to BC Hydro.
- BC Hydro's deals are supposed to be vetted by the BC Utilities Commission and backed by a sound business case. Lately we've been seeing quite a bit of interference with how BC Hydro is run...but I'm sure our government will allow BC Hydro to negotiate the best deal with KM and Shell. Right?
- KM and Shell could always build their own generating plant, and would then not have to deal with BC Hydro. However, they would have to pay the carbon tax on any fuel they burn. note: there is no carbon tax applied to exports of fossil fuels (good thing too, or that coal terminal out at Roberts Bank would be out of business...)
- any of these alternatives mean that the new infrastructure is for the exclusive benefit of industry. Locals would not see a single electron from these new sources. Of course, they would benefit with jobs. One assumes that KM and Shell would invest in the local community as well (donate to arts and culture, that sort of stuff). All good, right?

This is what the landscape looks like when you want to be an energy super-power. We've all got a price. What's yours?

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