While big wind farms face an uncertain future in B.C., tiny projects continue to crop up across the province’s northeast—leaving the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) with a headache as it struggles to regulate the new developments.
The regional board dealt with four separate wind projects at its meeting Thursday, each ranging between five and seven turbines.
They include two five-turbine wind projects proposed on public land between Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, and another pair of seven-windmill operations slated for lands owned by the South Peace Hutterian Brethren Church.
The projects fall under BC Hydro’s standing offer program, which allows producers with projects smaller than 15 megawatts to sell power to the grid. Larger projects, on the other hand, can only sell power to BC Hydro after a clean power “call." The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), which closed its B.C. office earlier this year, said the Site C dam makes another clean power call unlikely "within the next decade.”
PRRD chair Don McPherson said the board has been facing more applications for small wind projects—leading some directors to push for a policy to regulate windmill development.
"They don’t need a power call, so it’s easier for them to (build) that way,” he said.
Standing offer wind projects are relatively tiny. Red Willow Wind, a wind farm proposed near Tumbler Ridge, will have 61 turbines. If completed, it would be the largest wind development in the province.
But small projects are not without controversy. A proposed seven-turbine development in the small rural community of Montney has met stiff opposition from residents, who claim the windmills would obstruct views, create noise and drive off wildlife.
The board earlier considered a new zone for wind farms too small to merit a provincial environmental assessment, which would have weighed the impacts of a proposed project on the surrounding community.
The zoning idea was eventually dropped, leaving the board to consider projects case by case.
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said the region should be consistent in how it considers wind farms falling under its jurisdiction.
"To say we should piecemeal it is the wrong thing to do,” she said. "Investors are going to come in here and see how our decisions are being made, and they’re going to see a smattering of this and that."
Electoral area directors will consider a windmill policy at an upcoming meeting. Area C director Brad Sperling noted he was frustrated that the majority of standing offer projects appeared to be slated for Northeast B.C.
Wind projects on the go
The two developments, dubbed the Zonnebeke and Sukunka wind projects, would be built by Natural Forces, Inc. and generate around 15 megawatts of electricity apiece.
The projects would be located on Highway 29 between Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge.
Andy MacCallum, vice president of development, said “probably 95 per cent” of residents who attended public meetings in the Chetwynd area supported the project, while the company was working with a few people concerned about the project’s impacts on wildlife and hunting.
“Overall, I think we have great support,” he said.
The projects on Hutterite lands would be developed by Renewable Energy Systems Canada.
When it closed its Vancouver office in February, CanWEA officials said Ontario and Alberta are investing heavily in renewable energy projects. In response to CanWEA’s pullout, Energy Minister Bill Bennett noted 93 per cent of B.C.’s electricity already comes from renewable sources.