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Mattawa Valley wind carries potential for $20M power project

A major Canadian wind power developer is eyeing the Mattawa-Bonfield area, east of North Bay, for a potential wind farm.

A major Canadian wind power developer is eyeing the Mattawa-Bonfield area, east of North Bay, for a potential wind farm.

Toronto-based AIM Power Gen Corporation and a North Bay wind consultant have erected a 50-metre meteorological tower in Mattawan Township to gather a year’s worth of wind data to build their case for a wind energy generating development.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) district office has granted approval for AIM and Northern Windpower to use Crown land in a remote area northwest of the town of Mattawa.

David Thompson, a Mattawa-Bonfield economic development officer, says if the winds prove sufficient in the Mattawa River Valley, the project could evolve into a $20-million development.

The Ontario government’s wind atlas and some of the area’s physical features suggest the location may have sustainable and economically viable winds.

Signs indicate that winds coming off Lake Nipissing are funneled up between the high ridges of the Mattawa River Valley.

“You can see how the trees grow and the effects of the wind on them, which indicates a fairly substantial amount of wind down that valley,” says Thompson.

“We’ve seen some of the topographical features and some of the good wind signs,” adds consultant Terry Wojick of Northern Windpower.

The project is awaiting a final land use permit approval from the MNR’s land management section in Peterborough and clearances from Transport Canada’s Nav Canada since any structure higher than 20 metres is considered to be in federal air space.

Wojick says AIM, which is funding the wind study, will need to collect a minimum of 12 months of wind data while developing their business plan over the next 18 months.

AIM is a Toronto-based company that builds and operates large-scale wind power generating facilities. They are currently building one of the more advanced projects in Canada with their 99-megawatt Erie Shores Wind Farm in southwestern Ontario scheduled for commissioning this year.

Team Northern Ontario member and export development officer in North Bay, Jay Aspin, says he has applied knowledge he picked up during a TNO trade mission to Germany in 2003 in working with four other companies to develop four other wind farm locations in the Nipissing region.

“With good fortune, we will have some successes in our area in the near future.”

Thompson says a potential wind farm would be an incremental step toward diversifying the area’s economy from being mainly reliant on the forestry industry.

“We’re moving ahead on some neat initiatives on the education side taking advantage of laid off forestry workers with retraining in their community,” says Thompson.

Last year, the municipality was dealt a blow that is all too familiar with many forestry-dependent communities.

Ninety employees were laid off in October when Columbia Forest Products eliminated the third shift at their Rutherglen veneer mill. The company blames a downturn in the hardwood veneer and plywood markets.

Community leaders met last fall to find ways to develop new job training opportunities for affected workers and came up with a new welding program being offered by North Bay’s Canadore College and the Near North District School Board.

Six welders have already graduated with another class that includes a number of former Columbia workers underway.

Thompson says some job opportunities may be on the way, with heavy truck manufacturer Gin-Cor Industries planning to undergo another expansion. The company may add more skilled labour. Thompson says he is dealing with another company that expects to bring in 25 welding jobs.

His corporation is also working to acquire a piece of private property to develop an industrial park. The land has access to high-speed Internet connections, the Trans Canada Highway, the Ottawa Valley Railway, a small airport and a gas pipeline.

There have also been discussions with the railway about a spur line and a trans-load facility.

“This industrial park has a lot of potential and it’s the old adage location, location, location,” says Thompson.

A community adjustment committee wants to attract knowledge-based companies. They are talking to two companies about a green value-added product.

“We’re hoping to secure the purchase of this property and move forward with the development,” says Thompson. “Our challenge is (that) although we have lots of land around the area, companies need to know where they’re going to go and we’ve got to have this property developed into an industrial park.”

Additional opportunities for skilled labour and local companies may open up this summer as TransCanada Corp. also has tentative plans to upgrade capacity on their main cross-Canada natural gas pipeline.

Mattawa is one of two sections along the 14,898-km length of the company’s main cross-country natural gas transmission system that is not twinned.

The company is awaiting final approval from the Natural Energy Board (NEB) on whether they can proceed with construction to double-pipe the 18-kilometre stretch through the Mattawa area.

TransCanada spokesperson Jennifer Varey says the projected $49-million capacity upgrade has received a conditional permit from the NEB. TransCanada is evaluating the conditions on the permit and determining whether to go ahead with the project. She says TransCanada is in the bidding process for a prime contractor for the job.

“We’re tentatively scheduled to begin construction in July with the pipeline in use by November,” says Varey.