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Wind out of sails for Central Plains

News of a proposed wind farm project for St. Joseph, in the Winnipeg area, being selected for development, has taken some of the wind out of the sails of developers hoping to get the go-ahead for projects in the St. Ambroise and Macdonald areas in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie.

However, Reeve Toby Trimble said he is not disappointed the St. Joseph project was selected instead of the local proposals.

He said, in the meantime, the RM will continue its work on its long-term development plans for the region, which will be able to accommodate any potential wind farm development.

“From the planning district and the municipality, we’re working at a zoning bylaw,” said the reeve. “We’ll more than likely continue to make the (zoning bylaws) so that, down the road, if there is a wind farm that comes to the area, then we’ll be prepared for it.”

Trimble attended open houses on April 3 for the St. Ambroise wind energy project and on April 2 for the Macdonald project, where residents had a chance to ask questions.

While the development company did not get the contracts for this round of proposals, there may be an opportunity in the future to resubmit proposals for consideration, so the project planning work will continue. As well, if Manitoba Hydro’s negotiations to develop a project at St. Joseph are not successful, it may reconsider other proposals, such as the Macdonald and St. Ambroise ventures.
About 40 residents attended each open house meeting to discuss the proposed projects for Macdonald and St. Ambroise.

Trimble said most seemed to be in favour of the projects, although several were concerned about how the turbines would affect farmwork, such as aerial spraying.

“There were people there I’m sure who had those concerns,” the reeve said. “Most of the farmers were there, basically, if they had any questions (and) were asking the representatives from the company.”

He is hopeful a wind farm may eventually find its way to the RM of Portage and sees many advantages with the project.

“It’s positive for the area,” he said. “From the municipal perspective, it’s added taxes and there would be a fair amount of construction in the area, with jobs. It’s economic development, and it’s green energy.”

Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said the St. Joseph contract has not been finalized yet, but would be for 300 megawatts of wind power, or three times the size of the St. Leon wind farm south of St. Claude. It is estimated the St. Joseph project will have about 200 wind turbines.

“We haven’t finalized it yet, but we said we would be talking with them (the development company for the St. Joseph project) further about the particulars of the contract,” Schneider said on April 4.

He expects the process to take a couple of months as the contract details are being worked out.

Schneider said the project for St. Joseph, located south of Winnipeg, met the criteria the government was looking for: to have access to the land the company is proposing; have some provable data on the wind quality; have access and proximity to some of the transmission substations, and indicate a price-range for the project.

The contract price is still being negotiated, but when that is finalized, construction will begin soon, with an expected completion date of the end of 2009.

The developer for the St. Joseph contract is Australian firm Babcock and Brown Ltd.

Gary Martens, manager of western Canadian development for Eon Climate and Renewables Canada Ltd., said while the bids for the St. Ambroise and Macdonald Westman wind farm projects were not successful, he is hopeful the projects will have another opportunity for consideration in the future.

These projects were on a shortlist of 10 that Manitoba Hydro was considering before the St. Joseph proposal was selected.

Martens said the Westman wind farm project preparations will continue. Feedback received from the open house meetings will be taken into consideration as an environmental study is being done for the St. Ambroise and Macdonald areas, which is expected to be completed by the summer.

By Angela Brown

Central Plains Herald-Leader

11 April 2008