A former project management worker for firms in the oil fields of Alberta is looking to the green fields of Northern Ontario as he examines the potential for a wind farm south of the Magnetawan First Nation.
“With the provincial announcements of standard operating contracts to purchase power from private companies, Ontario has become very favorable for wind power,” Cameron Lewis, owner of the Toronto-based Environmental Electric Company, says.
“It’s a great time for alternative energy sources, and let’s face it, the province needs power.”
As a first step, Lewis is seeking to build a 60-metre wind testing tower on Crown land in Wallbridge Township, a kilometre south of the Magnetawan Indian Reserve.
Armed with an anenometer to measure the area’s wind speed and air density, the tower will also feature a solar-powered panel to power a cell phone, which will transmit data to an Ottawa-based engineering company. The tower, which has a diameter of two-and-a-half inches, is expected to be in place for approximately one year in order to provide the company information about seasonal and overall annual trends.
If results are positive, Lewis will look to build a 10 megawatt facility within the next three to four years, which can cost up to $30 million to build.
Permission to proceed with this first phase of the project currently sits with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), which closed the public input phase on August 15. An answer is expected to be provided by early fall.
Should the MNR give the project its stamp of approval, the tower is expected to be erected by mid-fall by North Bay-based Northern WindPower. Though hesitant to discuss costs due to some still-uncertain factors, Lewis said the pricetag to be “over six figures and under a million.”
Lewis says he’s received nothing but positive feedback thus far, with one helpful local offering him permission to make use of his private road. While this specific access won’t be necessary, Lewis says it’s indicative of the general attitude he’s encountered thus far. He also acknowledges that public response to an actual wind farm, rather than just a testing station, may be wholly different.
However, by being selective about the proposed location, he says the project should be able to avoid many of the pitfalls associated with such endeavors. By locating the potential site away from waterfront and central populations, Lewis says he’s confident the site will skirt some of the controversies that have dogged similar projects in recent years.
A waterfront wind tower proposal for Parry Sound’s Carling Township in 2005 drew such animosity from local residents that the proponent eventually withdrew the application. By finding a location largely away from residences and waterfronts, the site would be able to generate power without being subject to NIMBY – not in my backyard – or public usage conflicts, Lewis says.
“If you’re going to do wind towers, I kinda have a belief they should be away from people because even though statistics say 70 to 80 per cent people look at them and find them positive, that other 20 per cent does not, so we need to reduce that if we can. I’m a bit of a green guy, and there’s got to be some corporate responsibility, and I don’t want to wreck the sightlines of Georgian Bay either.”
This step represents Lewis’ first major step as a wind power entrepreneur, although he first considered the virtues of wind power when working in the manufacturing and project management sectors in Alberta’s oil fields a few short years ago. However, revenues were too low and technology too crude to present an economically viable business opportunity. These days, technology is cheaper and more efficient, and making business prospects more feasible in the burgeoning sector of wind energy production, Lewis says.
Although some may consider the jump from oil to green power to be a quantum shift, Lewis says it essentially boils down to the same thing: energy. As a result, many of the skills he earned in Alberta are applicable in Ontario, and will help move the project along if it proves to be favorable.
“You’re still dealing with equipment, finances, and you’ve still got to get engineers and pass environmental factors that need to be addressed, so in a lot of ways, it does transfer over. It doesn’t seem like it should, but it does.”
By Nick Steward
6 September 2007