After a series of unfortunate events for Tumbler Ridge, some good news is blowing into town.
Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Development were in Tumbler Ridge on Tuesday to announce that construction will begin in earnest on the Meikle Wind Energy Project.
The $400-million project is slated to bring 175 jobs over the course of the two-year construction of the giant turbines, and nine permanent jobs when it becomes operational at the end of 2016.
For a community desperate for employment, this is welcome news.
Councillor Rob Mackay told Alaska Highway News in October that Tumbler Ridge was grappling with a local unemployment rate of between 60 and 70 per cent since Anglo American Coal and Walter Energy idled their mines. The town of 2,700 has been largely dependent on mining since it was incorporated in 1981. Around 700 people directly lost their jobs over a period of around six months, and by the end of last year, there were no working coal mines in Tumbler Ridge.
Bennett and Provincial Environment Minister Mary granted the wind project an environmental assessment certificate in July of 2014.
“It’s got great wind,” said Garland, when asked why they decided to build in that location. He also said that the community was attractive to the company. “A number of the First Nations have been very supportive in working with us. We like going into communities where we can become good neighbors . . . Lastly, just by coincidence, the timing for creating jobs and other things, it’s a great opportunity for us here with some of the mines that have been shut down.”
Once completed, the project’s 61 turbines will produce 185 megawatts of energy, enough to power 54,000 homes.
Three of the province’s four wind projects in operation are in the Peace.
The 144 megawatt Dokie Wind Energy project near Chetwynd, Bear Mountain Wind project in Dawson Creek and the 142 megawatt Quality Wind Project also located in Northeastern B.C. The Cape Scott Wind Farm is a 99 megawatt project on Vancouver Island.
“It might surprise some people to see us celebrating a wind project just after we announced the Site C project, but when we announced Site C I made it very clear that BC Hydro has actually entered into energy purchasing agreements with several renewable energy companies, this is one of them,” said Bennett on Monday afternoon, directly off his flight into Fort St. John.
There were concerns from Tumbler Ridgers that Site C would displace independent power production (IPP) projects like the Meikle project. Bennett, however, said the need for power in B.C. is great, and BC Hydro’s power forecasts are “conservative.”
“We know if the LNG industry really takes off, we’re going to need yet more electricity than what they even are saying we’re going to need.” He pointed to the fact that BC Hydro based their forecast on one new mine over the next ten years, when five new mines have opened just in the past three and a half years.
“I think there’s going to be a need for more electricity sooner than what everybody thinks, and of course we’ll have to meet that demand. Once Site C is out of the way, this new demand is going to be met by the IPP industry,” said Bennett.
At the event on Tuesday morning — also attended by BC Hydro staff and Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier — Bennett talked about filling Site C jobs with out-of-work miners from Tumbler Ridge.
Site C still faces legal challenges from the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association, as well as B.C. and Alberta First Nations groups.
Barring an injunction order, Bennett said construction is still scheduled to begin on the $8.8-billion dam this summer.
— With files from Jonny Wakefield