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Green energy: next niche of development (1/02)

By Ian Ross The bone-chilling wind that cuts through Sudburians in winter may eventually play a role in keeping them warm.

By Ian Ross

The bone-chilling wind that cuts through Sudburians in winter may eventually play a role in keeping them warm. The City of Greater Sudbury is investigating ways to make use of a green energy source to lure in private investment to build a wind turbine farm.

In partnership with the Greater Sudbury Utilities Inc., the city intends to advertise nationally this month for expressions of interest from private groups willing to work with the municipality to create a 50- to 100-megawatt wind farm.

Paul Graham, plant engineer with the City of Greater Sudbury, says after conducting some preliminary work with Laurentian University using a Global Information System model, they have determined the area's elevation and wind velocity works in their favour.

The wind data collected from the airport is not detailed enough for a thorough analysis of the project’s viability, though they are encouraged enough to pursue a year-long feasibility study once a private-sector partner can be secured, he says.

The project falls into step with the goals of Sudbury’s Community Energy Plan to reduce the city’s dependency on the outside energy market by 50 per cent. Currently Sudbury consumes about 320 megawatts of power daily, and the city spends about $100 million a year on electricity.

Since wind is an intermittent source, to achieve their long-term goals the city needs to provide an energy mix of alternative sources when presenting a "portfolio of technology" to major industry, Graham says.

How the wind farm project would be financed, and how any operating arrangement between the city and private sector would be a structured remains open for discussion, he adds.

It is anticipated any public-private deal would involve a sizeable portion of the revenue stream from power generation flowing back to the community through Greater Sudbury Utilities.

"The private sector is looking to invest their money and get a reasonable rate of return," Graham says. "How that is structured I wouldn’t even venture a guess. But we are interested in putting a deal together that would maximize the benefit to Sudbury."

The city will make no financial commitment to the project until the details of the feasibility study are known.

A report to council, prepared by Graham, states that wind turbines are one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world. In the U.S. wind power generation has increased 27 per cent over the last year.

"In the final analysis, the generation of power through wind turbines...may result in producing energy costs at a price slightly premium to the current energy prices in Ontario. One of the focuses of the project will be to identify opportunities to pay down that premium at the front end of the project," Graham reports.

To provide a sense of magnitude, one megawatt of power supplies about 500 homes. A 50-megawatt wind farm would cost approximately $75 million to build.

Graham says the city has already received "several" expressions of interest from private-sector groups interested in a possible joint-venture wind farm. But he would not confirm if any have European connections stemming from Sudbury's growing relationship with some energy and environmentally conscious companies in the former East Germany.

"There are a number of German companies planning to come to Sudbury (for an upcoming trade mission), and one of them is a turbine manufacturer and we're certainly interested in talking to them. But we've had no direct contact with them."