Trent Ernst, Editor
Executives from Pattern Energy and Borea construction were joined by local First Nations, school district staff and others from around the area to celebrate the company’s Community Benefits Program.
The program is designed to support causes important to the community and economy of the District of Tumbler Ridge, “while ensuring benefits for the region have lasting impacts.”
One of the recipients of the Community Benefits Program was the Tumbler Ridge Geopark. Starting in 2016, The Meikle Wind Project will be donating $4000 a year until 2041, or 25 years.
Jim Kincaid, president of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation says that Pattern’s donation marks a shift in support for the Tumbler Ridge Geopark. “Pattern Energy has made a tremendous contribution to the local Geopark,” says Kincaid. “This is a very special commitment because it’s a 25 year commitment. It says they think we will be here in 25 years. We haven’t had that long-term commitment from industry before.”
Pattern is making a similar commitment to the School District 59’s Pat O’Reilly Outdoor and Environmental Studies Centre. Brad Booker was there on behalf of the School District. Booker is in charge of the Outdoor and Environmental Education program for the school district. He says the centre is a remarkable venue that the district is able to offer to students, but it is a big commitment to keep it open. But, he says, it is worth it.
“The kids that go out there have experiences that last a lifetime,” says Booker. “Quite often I have parents who come with their kids and can tell me about a skill they learned or an experience they had at the centre when they were growing up. It’s a legacy to have within our district. The skills that are taught out there are things they’ll keep for a lifetime. Things like trust and respect and persistence. These are the skills that the kids will take outside of school and into life, into their jobs with companies like Pattern.”
As a part of building these things, says Booker, he really likes to push and challenge the kids. One of the big challenges is to hike to the top of Meikle Mountain, located about 5 km west of where the wind park will be. It’s not a towering peak compared to the Rockies across the valley, he says, but when you’re in grade 6, “it is a formidable beast to climb.”
The 2.5 km trail climbs 600 metres to the top of the mountain. “Some of the pitches are about 30 degrees,” he says. “The kids are sometimes on all fours, scrambling up. It takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of force of will to get up that mountain. One 12 year old girl said to me ‘this is the biggest accomplishment of my life.’ I know she’s only 12, but that speaks something about getting up Meikle Mountain.”
Booker says there are three rewards at the top for the kids that make it (not including the granola bars that he packs up for them). The first is the sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as persistence and grit. Secondly, there’s a little box up there with photos and notes from kids who have climbed the mountain over the years. “They can flip through the photos from the ’90s and check out the hair-dos of their teachers from back in the day.”
The third reward, says Booker, is the view. “For a lot of kids, especially kids who grew up in Dawson Creek on the prairies, the view of the Rocky Mountains from on top of a mountain is pretty spectacular. As far as the eye can see is snow-capped mountains.
“A neat addition to that view will be the Meikle Wind Project. This spring, with the ten or 12 groups that I took up to the top of the mountain, they could see the land being cleared for the towers to go in, and I pointed it out to them and said ‘those are our neighbours down there.’ And boy are they ever curious and excited about that. They’re keen to learn more about wind power, and they’re excited to learn that companies like Pattern are supporting the community and the natural environment that they’ve been learning about. For this next generation of kids, they will start to see wind as the conventional power source, not the alternative, and it’s very exciting.”
Booker says he looks forward to having the chance to taking Pattern employees to the top of Meikle Mountain as well, so they can see the view, too.
Ward Marshall, Director of Business Development at Pattern Energy, quips that the Pattern employees would probably whine and complain more than the kids.
In addition to these two projects, Pattern has also donated $25,000 to the Tumbler Ridge Visitor Information Centre, and $20,000 to the Chamber of Commerce for improvements at Moose Lake Recreation Site.
Pattern says the latter is because they will be extracting water from Moose Lake for the construction. “We decided to make this donation to give back to users of the site for the inconvenience of project construction traffic and water pumping near the camp sites.”
The $25,000 one-time donation for the Visitor Centre is to help Tumbler Ridge as it “positions itself as a tourism destination to overcome the economic downturn in the mining economy, which resulted in the area losing two of its main employers.
“The new Visitor Centre is a focal point of the area’s new economic diversification strategy,” says Pattern in a release.
Pattern also took time at the event to celebrate their relationship with the Treaty 8 First Nations, inviting band councillors up to speak about the positive relationships that have been developing. Marshall says being from Texas, where they joke there is “drive by permitting” for wind projects like this, he had no idea about the process involved to get a project like this built in BC. One of the best things to come out of that process, he says, is the company’s relationships with First Nation groups in the area.
Last week, Pattern also announced it had secured final financing for the project. While construction started in May on the Meikle Wind project, Pattern did not have all the funding in place for the C$393 Million Financing of 180 MW Meikle Wind Project in British Columbia.
Now, it does.
When completed, Meikle Wind will be British Columbia’s largest wind project, at 189 megawatts (MW), and 61 turbines. That’s enough energy to power 54,000 homes. The project is creating jobs for 275 workers during construction and up to nine permanent positions once operational.
“Once operational, Meikle Wind will increase the installed wind power capacity in British Columbia by 38%,” said Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Development in a release. “Meikle Wind will generate strong benefits for the province with an estimated $70 million in payments for property taxes, Crown lease payments, wind participation rent, and community benefits over the first 25 years of operations. We now have wind power projects in operation or development in four provinces throughout Canada.”
The Meikle Wind project is in a location that was significantly impacted by pine beetle kill and previous forestry activity. Meikle Wind received its Environmental Assessment Certificate in June 2014.