A company has begun regulatory work with the aim of building a possible $480 million wind farm near Tumbler Ridge.
According to the company’s estimates, it could be larger than any other wind project currently operating in British Columbia.
On Thursday, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office announced that the Red Willow Wind Partnership Limited — a joint effort between Aeolis Wind Power Corporation and Boralex Inc. — had entered the environmental assessment process.
This is a process where the provincial government allows or disallows a project to go ahead based on its environmental impacts. A certificate from the BC EAO is just one of the many hurdles the proponent will face.
The time-line looks like this: Red Willow Wind hopes to have regulatory permits in hand in 2016, begin construction in 2017, with the wind power operating by late 2018.
Red Willow Wind's estimated capital cost is $480 million.
“Red Willow is an early, early stage project," said Alistair Howard, manager of project development at Boralex. "We’re just positioning ourselves with, I guess, the optimistic view that there is going to be a need for power and wind power will be the best.”
Howard also said his company won’t be “extremely aggressive” about the plan.
“We definitely won’t make any kind of construction/investment decision without a contract from BC Hydro,” he said.
The project could be a boon for the depressed Tumbler Ridge economy, which has struggled since nearby coal mines were shuttered last year.
It would be located 40 kilometres southeast of the town.
The project description estimated that the Red Willow project "may provide up to 200 person years of employment, with a maximum of approximately 300 jobs at one time."
Eight full time jobs would be created over its possible 40-year life span.
The Red Willow project could produce 200 megawatts of power from as many as 80 wind turbine generators.
The turbines would be located on a series of ridges south of Stoney Lake and Highway 52. They would be 135 metres from base to the hub, with a rotorplus-blade diameter of up to 126 metres.
By comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 93 metres tall.
Each wind turbine would have a capacity of two to three megawatts.
By building so many turbines, Red Willow Wind hopes to achieve economies of scale, making the project more cost-effective.
The project would also require a new and upgraded access road, new transmission lines, a project substation and an office control station.
The company anticipates "that the energy generated by the project will be sold to BC Hydro … through a future Clean Power Call."
Howard said that at issue is whether or not Red Willow Wind could get a contract with BC Hydro.
BC Hydro currently has its hands full with the Site C dam, which could cost upwards of $8.7 billion. That project would generate 1,100 megawatts of power if completed.
The District of Tumbler Ridge is on board. It recently urged BC Hydro to buy electricity from two proposed projects that have been shelved due to limited demands for power.
A spokesperson for BC Hydro said its plan "doesn't specifically call for a new large energy procurement process," but that the utility has left the door open "for exploring clean, renewable sources like wind to supply electricity if future demand is higher than anticipated."
While the wind power would likely be cleaner than other sources of energy, the project description filed with the BC EAO noted possible negative environmental impacts.
The wind turbines could kill bats and birds, and some culturally valued wildlife could be at risk during construction.
According to the company’s description, a member from the Lands office of Moberly Lake Indian Band and Saulteau First Nations participated in a site visit.
Red Willow Wind promised to prepare a First Nations consultation plan.
Nearby residents would also have their views changed, and noise would be created, according to the regulatory filing.
Howard said the area around Tumbler Ridge is a world class wind resource, and it’s been "basically undeveloped.”
In addition to Red Willow, Boralex is working on smaller projects near Tumbler Ridge, such as the Moose Lake and Babcock projects.
Those projects are independent and have no bearing on Red Willow.
They would come with five to seven turbines.
Last month, Pattern Energy Group LP began construction of the Meikle Wind Energy project.
The $400 million wind farm's 61 turbines would produce 185 megawatts of electricity.
— with files from Jonny Wakefield