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Canadian Viewpoint - Northland CEO Mike Crawley Interview

Mike Crawley is President and CEO of Northland Power, a major Canada-based power company. He joined Northland in July 2015 and previously served as Northland’s Executive Vice President of Development. He is a highly accomplished executive who has played a prominent role in the development of the Canadian independent renewable power sector. He was previously CEO of AIM PowerGen, where he led the company from initial concept to one of the largest independent renewable power developers in Canada. During his tenure, he oversaw more than $1 billion in project financings and the eventual sale of the company to GDF Suez Canada. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts from Western University.

About Northland Power


Established in 1987, Northland Power is a Toronto-based, but globally-active power company with a strong presence in renewables, particularly offshore wind. They are developing, building, owning and operating clean and green power infrastructure assets in various worldwide locations. Their facilities produce electricity from clean-burning natural gas and renewable resources such as wind, solar and biomass. They have a long track record of thirty-one years in power provision.

Currently, they have operating facilities that generate 2,429 MW (gross) and 2,014 MW (net) of electricity, with an additional 399 MW of generating capacity under construction and 1,044 MW (gross) in advanced development.

The company has a big presence in the North Sea, having two operating assets Gemini and Nordsee One, and is investing in a third.

They are actively seeking projects to invest in globally. Mike Crawley’s job is to guide Northland’s strategy of delivering sustained growth and value for shareholders and stakeholders by developing, building, owning and operating clean and green energy infrastructure. Mike says, “We’ve also got a big play in offshore wind in Taiwan, and so got a gigawatt gross of capacity there that we’re developing now and hope to bring to financial close around 2022, with a partner that we have there. So we are always looking for new markets for offshore wind.” They are in discussions with potential partners in Japan and Korea.

Northland Power Seeks Offshore Wind Projects


US Offshore Wind looms large on their horizon. Mike continues, “Our headquarters are in Toronto, we’re listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. New York is an hour and 15 minute flight from Toronto, so it’s not surprising that we have spent quite a bit of time looking at ways to get into offshore wind in the north east.”

Northland Power are interested in projects that span the whole electricity production process, from offshore turbines, cables and substations, to onshore infrastructure and grid connection.


Potential Hurdles in the Supply Chain


Mike prefers smaller multiple projects of around 300-400 MW and more, smaller lease areas, rather than larger 1 GW arrays, as he thinks that it means more developers can get involved, and spreads the risk, both financial and physical, over a larger number of players.

“There’s a challenge with a few large projects that if one major supplier to one of those projects gets into some financial or other difficulty, then it can cause a delay of significant volume of capacity and energy that a system operator would have been expecting.”

Although European suppliers will be major contractors in the near future, Mike sees a logical move to building a domestic US industry. “By virtue of the volume of projects going forward and the volume of megawatts that are being constructed, it will start making economic sense to have suppliers locate manufacturing in fabrication, in the US north east, just to avoid transport costs.”

He does have a concern that if regulators or legislators start imposing local content requirements, that will only serve to drive up the costs of projects and ultimately the price of electricity produced.


The Jones Act


Like many other experts interviewed by this blog, he has concerns about the Jones Act, “Getting someone to invest in Jones Act compliant vessels is always a challenge, because they have to have confidence that there’s going to be enough business in the north east to justify that investment.”

Feeder barges worked for Block Island, but inevitably sub-optimal workarounds using non-specialist vessels can cause delays and push costs up. Many of the US OW wind projects are looking at the new generation of larger turbines (such as the giant GE Haliade-X, which has a capacity of 12 MW and stands 260m tall).

Mike continues, “From a permitting standpoint it means there’s a smaller footprint for turbine locations, so in terms of stakeholders, including those in the fishing industry, it would be an advantage.” The larger turbines may well spur new vessel construction and assembly infrastructure in the US so could benefit the industry long-term.


Stakeholder Issues


Mike has analysed the area in depth, “The biggest issue always is ocean-going vessels for transport, and their shipping routes, making sure that the locations of turbines don’t interfere with that, and the impact on local fisheries to make sure that it doesn’t affect the livelihood of the local fishing industry. So those are generally in any market the two biggest stakeholder issues.”


Bringing the Power to the People


Some existing wind farms are situated off remote areas – such as the coast of Scotland or Ireland – which are not highly populated and have to have grid infrastructure built to bring the new sources of power to areas where it is needed. That is not the case with the highly urbanised US Atlantic coast and its proximity to some of the world’s greatest cities. However this brings its own issues.

Mike says, “I think the onshore interconnection in the north east will be complicated. The density of population makes routing right away more difficult, You’ve got good transmission infrastructures, that’s a positive, but the finding a way from land to those interconnection points is more complicated because of the population, buildings, roads and implications of running cabling through such areas.”

Northland Power are actively seeking to invest in the US OW industry so they might well be a company that other developers should invite to join their projects.

The US offshore wind market is probably the most rapidly-developing renewable energy sector in the world. Follow #USOW20 for the latest news and expert opinions.

Join us at the US Offshore Wind 2020 Conference & Supply Chain Exhibition. 

Your Gateway into the U.S. Offshore Wind Industry - Boston June 18-19, 2020

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By Julian Jackson – writer on technology, arts, blockchain and cryptocurrencies

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