Revered for its hiking trail and stunning vistas, the bluff overlooking M'Chigeeng First Nation will soon be known for something else: wind power.
At this time next year, the promontory will host a pair of 2 MW wind towers, generating enough energy to power 1,000 homes under the Mother Earth Renewable Energy (MERE) project, fully owned by the Manitoulin Island reserve.
The wind farm has been greenlighted for construction after receiving its notice to proceed from the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) on March 15.
Site preparation has already begun, and turbine erection is scheduled for the fall, readying the farm for a spring commissioning.
“I'm very excited about how we are in a good position to capture opportunities in the alternative energy industry,” said M'Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, who has been a strong proponent of the project. “The government of Ontario has done well to legislate how these opportunities can be relied on through the Green Energy Act, the FIT program, and the loan guarantee program; it's a very good thing for First Nations.”
Over the decade the community has been cultivating its renewable energy plan, the $12.5-million wind farm has gone through many incarnations, said project manager Grant Taibossigai.
“In the initial plan it was 10 MW with 3 MW on reserve land and the balance of 7 MW off the reserve, and the community decided they wanted the entire project on the reserve,” Taibossigai explained. “The community also decided, through chief and council, that we wanted to own the project 100 per cent, so that reduced the project size from 10 MW down to 4 MW.”
The First Nation has been guaranteed 15 cents per kWh--13.5 cents plus a 1.5-cent Aboriginal adder--over the course of a 20-year contract.
German company Enercon will supply the E82 model turbines, which have a rotor diameter of 82 metres, a hub height of 80 metres and a sweep area of 5,281 square metres.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), FedNor, and M'Chigeeng have invested in the project, and an $8.5-million financing deal with TD bank has been secured.
But rather than teaming up with a development partner, the First Nation took the bold step of establishing the farm alone, a move that promises them oversight on the project and a better return on their investment.
“We worked so hard on this project, we wanted total control and management,” Taibossigai said. “We wanted total ownership and we would not have been able to achieve that with having a partner.”
Another key component of the project is job creation. An estimated 100 jobs will be available for band members during the construction phase, and permanent employees will be needed for the operation of the MERE Corp., which will take on future development projects on behalf of the band.
Tenders for tree clearing and road clearing and construction have been awarded to Island contractors, with the labour force and supplies sourced locally as well.
The next step is securing a two-year temporary permit through INAC to facilitate immediate construction. A long-term permit, which can take months to finalize, will be sought simultaneously.
What the band will do with the profits will require the input of the membership, Chief Hare said.
He's seeking to implement a hydro subsidy for members to offset the high cost of electricity, which he said has been an impediment for many in the membership.
“When that hapens I think everybody will begin to feel they are part of this project and that they are getting a benefit from it,” the chief said.
Other options being considered include enhancements in housing, education and training, or band operations.
The First Nation may develop a second phase, which would encompass between 6 and 10 MW. What that phase might look like--more turbines or a solar power farm--is still to be decided.
The chief said those plans are preliminary, and he believes the band would be better served by engaging in larger projects via its collaboration with Mnidoo Mnising Power and Northland Power.
“I think that's a better avenue for us to become involved in other projects, because it's very hard for us to access investment dollars and to borrow money,” Chief Hare said. “If we're partners with a major developer, then I think we can make better progress.”
In the interim, M'Chigeeng is embarking on a trio of microFIT projects through the OPA, which has already been approved for connection.
The administration building, community complex and elementary school will be supplied with solar panels within the next few weeks, and Taibossigai estimated they should be up and running by June.