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Wind farms to power up North’s economy (08/04)

By IAN ROSS Northern Ontario Business Investors are waiting in the wings to dive into Ontario’s green energy market and potentially the province’s first wind farm on Manitoulin Island.


Northern Ontario Business

Investors are waiting in the wings to dive into Ontario’s green energy market and potentially the province’s first wind farm on Manitoulin Island.

Gore Bay businessman Rick Gagnon says the sheer volume of proposals from the private sector that responded to the province’s invitation for new sources of renewable power - worth an estimated 4,400 megawatts of potential energy - is proof positive that “there is a huge interest in green energy, specifically wind.”

“The investors are ready to invest in Ontario,” says Gagnon, one of the partners in a development consortium with Toronto’s Northland Power Inc.,

aiming to have a wind farm operational on Manitoulin Island by the fall of 2005.

As a principal in REpower Wind Corp., Gagnon’s company hopes to supply Northland Power Inc. with wind turbines for the $97-million project, billed as one of the most advanced wind farm projects in Ontario.

Northland’s McLean’s Mountain proposal near Little Current is one of 90 projects that came forward during the spring, in the province’s invitation to find 300 megawatts of new renewable power. Renewables include wind, solar, gas from landfill or compost (biogas) and some forms of water power. Companies that want to produce renewables must now formally submit bids through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process by Aug. 25. The

winning proposals will be selected by year’s end.

“Aug. 25 is going to be a big day for us,” says Gagnon of his two-year-old Sudbury company, a joint German-Canadian venture which has plans to manufacture and distribute wind turbines for the North American market.

Proposals will be chosen starting with the lowest price per megawatt-hour and the winning bidders will negotiate 15-year contracts with the new Ontario Power Authority.

Though Gagnon says REpower is working on several green-power possibilities in Alberta and other provinces, McLean’s Mountain represents a “top priority” project towards establishing a permanent manufacturing presence in Sudbury.

He says Ontario’s wind industry is “coming alive” and his company has attracted considerable interest from private and business investors wanting to finance many of his green energy projects. As well, he has been hearing from industrial players looking at alternative energy to supply power

directly for manufacturing.

“Even leasing companies have contacted us, interested in leasing the machines for different developments.

The overwhelming RFP response has initiated a second round of Request for Qualifications from the province, now seeking up to 2,500 megawatts of new ‘clean’ generation capacity (not burning coal or oil as a primary fuel), including co-generation, to be operating as early as 2005.

The Liberals are scrambling to make good on their campaign promise to eliminate all coal-fired generation by 2007 and replace the plants with cleaner sources of energy or conservation measures.

In late June, Little Current residents were given an early peek at Northland’s preliminary plans for the 54-megawatt McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm, stretched out over a 2,000-acre parcel of cattle pasture about five kilometres south of the town.

Project planners say the wind farm could consist of between 26 and 36 wind towers up to 80 metres in height and producing 140,000 megawatt hours of electricity. The final layout and the number of towers will be tabled sometime this summer.

The project would supply power for the equivalent of about 14,000 homes, that Northland says would be consumed by Manitoulin Island residents first, before the excess is dumped into the provincial power grid.

According to Northland’s project timelines, public consultation will last until September while the company submits their proposal to Ontario’s RFP. The company hopes to sign a long-term purchase power agreement with the province in January and expects to enter a permit approval stage early in 2005. Federal and provincial environmental assessments will likely take place from October to January.

With project financing in place by March, construction would begin shortly afterwards, with commissioning, testing and full operation beginning by September 2005.

Jonathan Sandler, Northland’s director of business development, says the project has drawn considerable local interest and believes it meshes well with the island’s environmentally conscious residents from an ecotourism perspective.

Sandler says the project will not only benefit the community in tax revenues, but also offer construction jobs for local firms and skilled labour, and create about a half a dozen full-time equivalent jobs once the wind farm is operational. It should also alleviate chronic area blackout problems by

ensuring a local power source, he adds.

Earlier this spring, the City of Greater Sudbury backed out of the McLean’s Mountain project, opting instead to continue gathering data for a wind farm project within the city’s limits. Northland continues to work with Sudbury on a more localized wind farm and other alternative energy concepts.

Sandler says Northland has held discussions with Energy Ottawa, a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa, as a potential partner for Manitoulin, but only maintains a “relationship with them” and no partnership agreements have been finalized as of late June. Discussions have also been held with the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands to come aboard as a project partner.