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Why renewable energy?
Renewable energy will be an increasingly important part of the global energy mix as we work toward a sustainable energy future. We were an early entrant into Canada’s renewable energy industry. Our investments to date have been focused on wind power and biofuels but we continue to evaluate opportunities in other renewable technologies, including solar.
Developing renewable energy is a key component of Suncor’s climate change action plan. In 2015, our combined renewable energy portfolio displaced about one million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year – the equivalent of the annual tailpipe emissions of about 255,000 typical cars.
Advancing different forms of energy also makes good business sense. Renewable power (wind and solar) and biofuels are some of the future’s energy sources – and we want to be among the providers of multiple energy solutions through what we believe are strategic, and relatively low-risk, investments.
Renewable power development
Suncor and its partners are involved in six operational wind power facilities in Canada, the first of which opened in 2002. These wind power facilities have a generating capacity of 287 megawatts (MW), enough to power about 110,000 Canadian homes. This power generation avoids approximately 255,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Suncor’s six operational wind facilities are located in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
In late 2015, our Cedar Point wind power project became operational. This project is a 100 MW facility and is located in southwestern Ontario. Also located in southwestern Ontario, our 40 MW Adelaide Wind Power facility is a notable project in our portfolio as it includes a 25% equity partnership with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
“This partnership is an opportunity for us to continue to work together with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation on our shared energy future,” said Jim Provias, vice president, Renewable Energy, Suncor. “Suncor is committed to working closely with the Aamjiwnaang community and we look forward to building on this relationship over the lifespan of our project.”
In 2015, Suncor entered into an asset swap agreement with TransAlta Corporation to exchange our 20 MW Kent Breeze facility in Ontario and our share of the 88 MW Wintering Hills facility in Alberta for TransAlta’s Poplar Creek co-generation facilities along with some key transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Wind energy continues to be a key component of our commitment to advancing different forms of energy. We believe wind power is a safe and reliable energy source. Producing wind energy is efficient and the fuel input is not only free, but emissions-free. Recent studies have shown that wind, along with natural gas (especially when the latter is paired with cogeneration, as it is at our oil sands facilities), are two of the lowest-cost options for building new power plants today.
As an integrated energy company, Suncor is committed to developing and supplying energy options that meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. While wind has been the focus of our investment in renewable energy to date, we have also been looking for the right opportunity to branch into solar power development. The dramatic decrease in the cost of solar equipment along with increasing government incentives to produce renewable power is now allowing us to pursue that objective. We are in the early stages of advancing potential solar sites in Alberta and have made transmission access applications to ensure future electricity grid connection. In addition, we are evaluating other solar opportunities in Ontario and Saskatchewan to complement our portfolio.
Renewable energy projects generate clean electricity, new jobs and economic development opportunities in communities across the country. We recognize that support for wind and solar energy development is not unanimous; however, we endeavour to work in an open, respectful and transparent way, engaging with communities early to alleviate and resolve issues wherever possible and reach mutually acceptable solutions. Our wind projects strive to meet or exceed all regulations. For example, our project design philosophy aims to minimize visual impact, reduce turbine density and maximize setbacks wherever practical.
We are committed to the health and safety of everyone near our operations, including landowners, neighbours and employees. Suncor welcomes a fact-based debate about energy choices and continues to look to accredited studies with scientific evidence.
We also operate Canada’s largest ethanol production plant, near Sarnia, Ont. The St. Clair ethanol facility has a production capacity of 400 million litres per year.
Virtually all the ethanol produced at the St. Clair plant is blended into Petro-Canada gasoline.
“Since it is a requirement for various biofuels mandates across the country, we can either purchase the product or we can produce it,” says Jim Provias, vice president renewable energy. “By operating the St. Clair plant, we are better able to control cost and quality, further reinforcing the value of Suncor’s integrated operating model.”
In 2014 Suncor made an investment in a biodiesel technology commercialization company. Along with this investment, we are participating in our first commercial-scale biodiesel plant currently under construction in Nebraska; the plant is expected to be operational in 2016.
Our investment in ethanol
We have been blending ethanol in our retail fuels since 1992. The St. Clair ethanol plant opened in Mooretown, Ont., in 2006 and we doubled the plant’s production capacity to 400 million litres of corn-based ethanol annually in 2011.
The ethanol produced at the St. Clair plant is blended into our Petro-Canada branded gasoline, providing a lower environmental impact than non-ethanolized gasoline and ensuring we meet government-mandated blending standards.
In Canada, the Federal Renewable Fuel Regulations requires an average of 5% renewable ethanol content in gasoline across Canada.
Some provinces have their own mandates for biofuel blending requirements, which means we need to purchase product from third parties to complement our supply from our St. Clair ethanol plant in Ontario.
There is growing evidence that biofuels such as ethanol are proven energy sources with demonstrable benefits.
The Conference Board of Canada concluded in a report titled Ethanol’s Potential Contribution to Canada’s Transportation Sector that:
- ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) relative to gasoline by between 40% and 62% depending on agricultural and production practices
- improved farming techniques have significantly increased the average bushels of corn produced per acre, positively impacting water and fertilizer efficiency
- today’s corn production is also more energy efficient
Although 10% ethanol-blended gasoline contains about 3% less energy than pure gasoline, it is an oxygenated fuel that has the ability to improve combustion efficiency in many vehicles. For most vehicles, this increased efficiency helps to offset the slightly lower energy content in the ethanol-blended gasoline.
Life cycle assessments
We believe it is appropriate to look at the full life cycle of ethanol production when discussing environmental benefits.
Before building our ethanol plant, we asked the Alberta-based Pembina Institute to conduct two life cycle assessments, which looked at all of the energy inputs from the corn field to the gas pump. Once the first phase of our facility was operational, we asked Pembina to revisit the study to ensure both the latest scientific methodology, along with actual operating data, was used.
Visit the Pembina Institute website to learn more
From its assessment, which was independently verified by the U.S. government’s Argonne National Laboratory, Pembina estimated that overall CO2 emissions could be reduced by up to 300,000 tonnes per year by blending all of the ethanol from the original St. Clair plant into gasoline. With the expansion of the plant, that environmental benefit has increased to 464,000 tonnes per year. St. Clair’s ethanol provides about a 52% reduction in GHG emissions compared to gasoline. These estimates were more recently reconfirmed by internal calculations.
Alternative land uses and crops
Much of the agricultural land used to produce ethanol today was previously used to grow tobacco. With the demand for tobacco on the decline, corn ethanol is providing a sustainable alternative crop for farmers.
The type of corn used as feedstock at the St. Clair plant has traditionally been used to feed livestock. Once the sugars and starches are extracted from the corn to make ethanol, the remaining elements are used to make premium cattle feed, which is then sold back to local livestock operators.
In sum, many parties benefit:
- farmers have an alternative crop to market
- livestock producers still get the feed they need for their cattle
- we are able to produce a fuel additive that boosts combustion efficiency and reduces the environmental impact of transportation fuels
We believe the biofuels industry is here to stay and we are committed to best-in-class production practices at our St. Clair plant.