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Small Energy Producers

SaskPower is beginning to buy electricity from small, independent power producers.

In 2002, for example, a Saskatoon home became the first house in Saskatchewan to sell the excess electricity it produces to the utility. Its power is generated by 40 rooftop solar panels that produce up to 1.8 KW of electricity. Any power that is not needed by the household is metered and fed into SaskPower's electrical grid.

A handful of small power producers sell electricity to SaskPower. In 1999, the utility formed its first small producer agreement with the company Fast Trucking in Carnduff, Saskatchewan. Fast Trucking produces electricity from a 60 KW wind turbine, with excess power fed into the grid.

A 2.8 KW rooftop solar array at the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina was also connected to the grid several years ago.

In 2012, the program price that SaskPower paid was 9.802 cents/kWh, which would escalate at two per cent per year thereafter. This is lower that the retail cost of residential power, currently at about 11.9 cents/kWh, however SaskPower explains that the difference between the buying and selling price reflects various costs that must be factored into the final retail price of delivered power.

While power utilities have generally been slow in welcoming independent power producers to the grid, they are gradually warming to the idea. One benefit is that most small producers use technologies that are more environmentally friendly than conventional production methods, such as burning coal. And encouraging independent power production can be cost effective, given that the utility's capital costs for adding new power supply are reduced.

SaskPower's experience with "distributed generation" are part of an important new trend in energy use. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin contends a "revolution" is occurring in the way power is being produced and that it will eventually see millions of independent power producers linked together in a grid that operates something like the worldwide computer web.

In his book The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the World Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth, Rifkin envisions a time when millions of end-users will connect small-scale solar, wind and hydrogen energy production systems into local, regional, and national power webs, using the same design principles that made the world wide web possible.

Once hydrogen fuel cells are fully developed, says Rifkin, even the car will become a "power station on wheels," with a generating capacity of 20 kilowatts. When parked, it would be plugged in to the home or office, or to the main interactive electricity network to provide electricity back to the grid.