On wind-swept ridgelines, surrounded by pine-beetle ravaged forests, the massive turbines at B.C.’s largest wind power project have started turning.
The Meikle Wind project, built by Pattern Development, will increase wind power capacity in the province by more than one third — to almost 674 megawatts — and will be able to generate energy for up to 54,000 homes, according to Mike Garland, Pattern CEO.
The wind farm, 33 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge, has a 25-year power purchase agreement with BC Hydro and benefits to the province include an expected $70-million in payments for property taxes, Crown lease payments, wind participation rent and community benefits over 25 years.
The wind farm uses the latest technology, with blade tips reaching as high as 170 metres, and the ability to individually control each turbine to capture maximum energy from the wind.
“It’s another step forward in the evolution of wind technology,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“Wind farms are now truly power plants.”
The two turbine models, with varying heights, rotor and generator sizes, catch the maximum possible energy by accounting for varying wind speeds, wind shear, turbulence and inflow angles, said Pattern spokesman Matt Dallas in an emailed response to questions.
But, there were challenges during construction because of mountainous terrain and bad weather.
“This project was unique for its construction, design and weather challenges, as well as for our discovery of rare dinosaur tracks during construction, which we donated to the Tumbler Ridge Museum,” Garland said.
The wind farm has the support of Treaty 8 First Nations and the communities of Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd and, according to a Pattern Development news release, used more than 500,000 person hours of labour during construction with more than 30 per cent of contracts going to regional companies and First Nations affiliated contractors.
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However, despite wind power’s state-of-the-art technology and increasing affordability, B.C. is unlikely to see more such projects in the near future because construction of the Site C dam means BC Hydro is not looking for additional power.
“BC Hydro has publicly stated that there would be no need to procure any additional power until at least 2030,” Hornung said.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association pulled out of B.C. last year when development opportunities dried up and decided to focus attention instead on provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, where coal is being replaced by natural gas and wind.
Harry Swain, the man who chaired the federal-provincial review of Site C, has said there is no need for the dam.
“If there was a need, we could meet it with a variety of other renewable and smaller scale sources,” Swain said.
Opportunities for wind power in B.C. could change if there was considerable growth in the economy or if the government aggressively promoted electrification to meet climate change commitments and explored the possibility of exporting power to other jurisdictions, Hornung said.
“Then the wind industry would be well-positioned to succeed because wind energy is as inexpensive . . . as any other source of electricity generation — with the possible exception of natural gas and, with carbon pricing coming in, that will change fairly soon,” he said.
It is likely that by 2040, wind energy will be 30 to 50 per cent cheaper than it is today, Hornung said.
“So, if and when B.C. needs new generation, wind energy will have to be considered very seriously.”
Paul Kariya, Clean Energy B.C. executive director, is happy to see the Meikle project up and running, but doubts whether other projects will follow in the near future.
“It’s a tough time from the development point of view,” he said.
Electricity demand is down and B.C. is in a surplus position, which is likely to continue when Site C comes on line in 10 years, Kariya said.
One reason for dropping demand is less power is required by a shrinking pulp and paper industry, which was previously one of the largest users of electricity in the province, Kariya said.
An aggressive climate action plan should include proposals to create demand for electricity, Kariya said.
“We should be doing everything we can to electrify and there should be longer term work on an export strategy for our clean energy. We don’t have a strategy in B.C.,” he said.
“The previous Premier (Gordon Campbell) was keen to champion it, but, since then, there has been no interest in it.”
The long-term view should also include the U.S. where subsidies for clean energy under the Obama administration are likely to disappear, which could create export opportunities for Canada, he said.
One of the strengths of clean energy projects is they usually have the support of First Nations — a massive sticking point in fossil fuel-based projects.
“We are a sector that has gone out of its way to have excellent relations with First Nations,” Kariya said.
Projects usually have a light environmental footprint, they have built-in legacies and enable sustainable economic development in terms of revenue sharing, royalty sharing and equity stakes, he said.
“Good wind projects could spark some tremendous First Nations development,” he said.
B.C. currently has five wind projects in operation and there are many more areas of the province, from the northeast to the Okanagan, where more could be successful, Kariya said.
About six per cent of Canada’s electricity comes from wind and, with the addition of the Meikle project, it is estimated almost three per cent of B.C.’s electricity will come from wind power.
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