Location of planned 1,000-megawatt project raises concerns about access roads through critical habitat of threatened mountain caribou
An alpine wilderness in northern B.C. that’s critical habitat to a herd of threatened mountain caribou is being proposed as the site for hundreds of industrial wind turbines.
Aeolis Wind Power Corp. based at Sidney on Vancouver Island has provided the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office with draft terms of reference for its 1,000-megawatt Hackney Hills wind farm, about 45 kilometres northwest of Hudson’s Hope.
“This is large infrastructure, very big machines,” confirmed Colleen Brown, the company’s director of projects and planning. “It’s not a weather vane on the roof of your house.”
The Hackney Hills are within the range of the Graham caribou herd, numbering about 300 animals and officially listed as threatened by Ottawa.
A consultant’s report for the province in 2005 concluded the “Hackney Hills represent critical year-round habitat for the Graham herd” and that “all areas above 1,240 metres should be protected.”
The Aeolis proposal may be a world first for wild caribou and wind turbines and is only the latest in a slew of supposedly green projects – both wind and run-of-the-river power – that are generating environmental concerns all over B.C.
“Global warming is being used as a Trojan horse to justify all manner of high-impact energy projects, and Hackney Hills is a prime example,” said Wayne Sawchuk, an award-winning Peace Valley conservationist and member of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society board.
Sawchuk fears road access to the wind farms can only have a detrimental impact on the caribou and Stone’s sheep populations. While not opposed to wind energy, he said the project “should not be given the green light to proceed in that location.”
B.C. has already banned all-terrain vehicles above 1,400 metres on the Hackney Hills for fear of damaging the sensitive alpine landscape on which the caribou depend.
Provincial biologists are also currently putting radio-collars on caribou to further identify critical habitat.
Brown said in an interview that she appreciates the concerns over caribou but noted the environmental benefits of wind energy must also be factored in.
She said environmental studies are continuing, and the company plans to explore the experience of wind turbines in areas of Scandinavia frequented by reindeer, a domestic version of the caribou.
The company hasn’t decided on the size of turbines to be used, but one option is to install 150 three-MW turbines – a total of 450 MW, or half the total project – in the first phase of development, starting in 2010. If the company opted for much smaller 800-kW turbines, proportionately more would be required to meet the 1,000-MW target.
She said the company would utilize and upgrade existing logging and oil-and-gas roads as possible, but would need “some development” to reach the ridge tops, rising to about 1,700 metres.
Company documents suggest the turbines might stand 40 metres to 70 metres high.
The wind farm site is U-shaped, extending to the Dunlevy Creek watershed on the west, to Bluegrave Creek watershed on the north and Aylard Creek watershed on the east.
Aeolis said its project would also require a 70-kilometre, 230-kilovolt transmission line connecting to the provincial power grid near the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
The draft terms of reference can be viewed at www.eao.gov.bc.ca/projects/hackneyhills/index.html.
By Larry Pynn
23 February 2008
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