Company blown away by Ontario; German firm that makes turbines sees province as central hub to supply wind-power projects
A German maker of offshore wind turbines that sees huge potential for wind development on the Great Lakes has targeted southern Ontario as the location for its first North American manufacturing plant, an initiative that would inject hundreds of millions into the province’s struggling economy.
Multibrid GmbH signalled at a press event in Toronto yesterday that it’s ready to enter discussions with the provincial and federal governments about setting up shop in Ontario.
“Ontario is well positioned,” said Multibrid’s Canadian director, Jean-François Beland.
He said there are 22 offshore wind projects proposed in North America, many of them in the Great Lakes region, and Ontario has the highways, railways, waterways, steel-making capacity and skilled workforce required to be a manufacturing hub for those projects. “The supply chain is already there,” Beland added.
Donna Cansfield, minister of natural resources, said the lifting earlier this year of a moratorium on offshore wind development signalled the province’s commitment to such projects. The government, she added, is prepared to sit down and have discussions with Multibrid.
“We are open for business on offshore wind,” Cansfield said in an interview. “Without a doubt, I would be very supportive of the government looking at how we could establish the manufacturing of these turbines here in Ontario.”
A decision by Multibrid to lay roots in Ontario would be welcome relief to a province that has been hammered by the loss of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the automotive and forestry sectors.
But industry proponents cautioned that landing such a plant is no sure thing. They said it’s now up to Queen’s Park to seize the opportunity or watch thousands of potential green-collar jobs go to Michigan, New York state, or some other neighbouring jurisdiction.
“The jobs are there and the opportunity is there, but if we don’t move on this it will go elsewhere,” said John Kourtoff, president and chief executive of Trillium Power Wind Corp., which has plans to build a massive $2.5 billion wind farm in Lake Ontario, about 15 kilometres offshore from Prince Edward County.
Kourtoff, with Multibrid’s Beland by his side, announced yesterday the creation of a wind-turbine buying consortium called Tai Wind that is committed to placing orders with a manufacturer that chooses to locate in Ontario. Members so far include Trillium and Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, together representing potential orders for more than 300 offshore wind turbines. Six other offshore developers have expressed interest in joining.
“Ontario is perfectly placed to supply North America and even the world with offshore turbines, components, barges and cranes needed to harness the resource wherever it may be,” said Kourtoff, who after two years of negotiations with Multibrid convinced it to give Ontario a serious look.
“That’s the objective of Tai Wind. We want to build a solid economic foundation to make Ontario a world leader in renewable energy manufacturing and innovation.”
Hundreds of megawatts of onshore wind farms have been built around Ontario, but job creation has been limited because the turbines are manufactured from plants in Europe or the United States. Observers say Queen’s Park has focused on green energy development but not on building an industry around it.
“It’s very important that Ontario and the federal government create the conditions for these industries to flourish, and at the moment those conditions are not in place,” said José Etcheverry from the David Suzuki Foundation.
Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, whose members have suffered from a series of automotive plant closures, fully backs the Tai Wind initiative. He sent a union representative to yesterday’s announcement to express his support.
Offshore wind is gaining momentum globally. Such projects require special engineering and underwater transmission, making them more expensive to build than onshore projects. But this added cost is largely offset by the stronger, more reliable and energy-packed winds blowing offshore.
In North America there are numerous ocean-based offshore projects. But the Great Lakes represent a unique opportunity – they have strong winds, but unlike ocean projects, the lakebeds are shallower and the water is less turbulent, making for easier construction.
Helimax Energy Inc., in a report recently prepared for the Ontario Power Authority, estimated there are 64 offshore wind sites on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes representing 35,000 megawatts – enough to power all businesses, homes and industry in the province when the wind blows. If developed, this amount of power would be “equivalent to 10 Niagara Falls,” said Kourtoff. Trillium aims to be first to develop on the Great Lakes.
Cansfield said the Trillium project needs serious consideration.
“The location is perfect, the timing is perfect, and it fits our renewable agenda,” she said, adding it’s a matter of working with the power authority to develop a plan.
20 June 2008
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