Boralex starts Environmental Assessment process for Redwillow

Trent Ernst, Editor


What’s the future for wind in the shadow of Site C?

Not as dire as some people make it out to be, at least, that appears to be Boralex Wind Energy’s stance, as they have entered into the Environmental Assessment (EA) Process for the Red Willow Wind Project.

The Redwillow Project is a joint venture between Boralex—who have two smaller wind projects: Moose Lake and Babcock Ridge, under development—and Aeolis wind, who, in addition to partnering with Boralex on the aforementioned projects, are working with Brookfield on the Thunder Mountain Wind Farm, and are investigating a half dozen or so other sites in the Tumbler Ridge area.

The 200 MW project, if approved, could become BC’s biggest wind project, larger than the recently-approved Meikle Wind project, a 61 turbine, 185 MW project which will start civil work later this spring.

The Redwillow Project could cost about $480-million to build and would be located south of Stony Lake, about 40 km southeast of town. There are 80 wind towers proposed for the site, one more than Capital Power’s Quality Wind Project, which would make it the largest in both number of turbines and amount of power generated.

Of course, warns Alistair Howard, Development Manager for Boralex, people shouldn’t read too much into those figures. “You have to look at where we’re at with the project,” says Howard. “We’re at the beginning. We’re at the feasibility level.”

This means that there’s a lot of room for tweaking the project between now and when the project starts construction. In a best case scenario, the project could clear the EA process by 2016, and start construction in 2018.

But at this stage, the project description is fairly generic, says Howard. “It might turn out to be 180 MW,” he says. “It might be 140. We need to go through our consultation stage. We are positioning this for the future,” says Howard. “If there’s the opportunity in the short term, then we’ll be ready for that, but we’re looking at this as a long-term investment.”

For instance, while the EA submission proposes up to 80 traditional steel towers for the turbines, Howard says there’s a chance this project could actually go with a concrete tower. These are far more durable than steel, he says, and can actually be built taller.

As an added bonus, he says, the towers would be constructed locally, which would create spin-off jobs for the local economy.

While the towers for the Quality Wind Project were assembled on-site, the actual bases were built in Oregon, and then shipped by rail to Tumbler Ridge.

Again, cautions Howard, this is only one option and is subject to change based on other factors like finances, resources and labour.

The EA process is only one of the hurdles that need to be cleared before the project can go ahead. The second major hurdle will be a power purchase agreement (PPA) with BC Hydro. Of the two, this may prove to be the more problematic.

Indeed, it is this that has left the Thunder Mountain Wind Project mired in limbo for the last few years. That project has had an EA Certificate, and is ready to start construction as soon as they can sell the power.

Unfortunately, BC Hydro has been reluctant to green light any new large scale wind projects. While the Meikle Wind Project was “announced” earlier this year, the project actually got its PPA as part of BC Hydro’s 2008 Clean Power Call. In June of last year, they received their EA Certificate.

BC Hydro has a standing offer for clean energy projects smaller than 15 MW. While the Moose Lake and Babcock Ridge projects would qualify, Redwillow most certainly would not. “The EA is generally a two year process on its own,” he says.

If BC Hydro indicates they’re planning a call for power in the near future, they’ll be ready says Howard, but otherwise the company isn’t going to be extremely aggressive about pursuing the project.

Despite Site C, Howard says Boralex is optimistic about Wind Power in BC. “We don’t think Site C changes the overall picture. In fact, hydroelectric power is a good thing, as it acts as a battery for wind power.”

How long is Boralex willing to wait for BC Hydro? Howard isn’t willing to give a number, but he points to Thunder Mountain. “That was proposed in 2006,” he says. “It’s shovel ready and ready to go. If we were given indication from the BC Government, we could be ready in a year.”

Howard says that Boralex and Enercon recently met with Council to discuss the option of concrete towers “at the idea level to see if there was the desire to create an employment opportunity like this.”

He says Council liked the idea. “In all the interactions we’ve had with TR Council and Jordan, we’ve been impressed with how engaged they are.”

Howard says Boralex is working on trying to do it right. “This is in the early stages. We’re not trying to take advantage of anything we see around Tumbler Ridge’s current problems. We are a company that is trying to do it right, for the community, for the first nations and for the environment. In a couple years we’ll know where we’re at.”