Big wind blows into the County; Skypower intends to erect 66 wind turbines in Hallowell and Sophiasburgh
Plans to build the largest industrial wind energy project yet proposed for the County was unveiled at a municipal planning committee meeting yesterday. Toronto’s Skypower Corporation said they intend to erect 66 wind turbines north of Picton in Hallowell and Sophiasburgh, clustered around the high voltage substation at Elmbrook.
Skypower officials said they have accumulated more than 12,000 acres under option with more than 50 farmers and landowners. The proposed Byran Wind Farm stretches from County Road 1 in the south, west to Tripp Road and north to Demorestville.
The project will likely use 67 GE’s 1.5 MW wind turbines. Skypower has contracted to purchase 200 of the machines. Each turbine consists of a tower and hub which reach 80 metres (262 feet) into the air. The giant fan blades have a diameter of 82 metres (270 feet). From the ground to the top of the blade tip each tower soars to 121 metres (400 feet). They will, by a wide margin, be the tallest structures in the County.
Skypower’s Dan Babcock has been busy all winter negotiating lease option agreements with the largest landowners in Hallowell and Sophiasburgh.
Skypower still has many hurdles to cross before it begin erecting wind turbines. It must complete an environmental assessment that will review the impact the project may have on the land, wildlife and the local community. It will also include several public meetings and feedback sessions. This process is estimated to take between 12 and 18 months.
This could make it tight for Skypower’s ambitions. Corey Basil, VP for Skypower told the committee he would like to have a shovel in the ground as soon as next year. He said construction could be completed in a season and perhaps begin commercial operation in 2010.
Skypower must also satisfy the Independent Electricity System operator (IESO) that the project won’t adversely affect the grid. And finally it must meet local planning regulations, which is why Basil and his team travelled to Picton to update to committee members. That said, municipalities are strongly encouraged by the provincial policy statement, to support wind energy projects, or at the very least not to create new roadblocks.
In fact, as Skypower’s consultant Peter Mercier pointed out to the committee, the provincial government has passed legislation that exempts electricity generators from the planning act, though not yet fully enacted.
“Your role in assessing these projects will one day cease,” noted Mercier. “It was left hanging as a sort of threat.”
By that Mercier was acknowledging what has been clear for more than a year, the province does not want municipalities arbitrarily slowing down its big wind plans.
WHY HALLOWELL AND SOPHIASBURGH
Much of the prospecting for wind energy projects until now has focused on the south shore of Prince Edward County. Perhaps a dozen prospectors continue to develop industrial wind projects in South Marysburgh. But Hydro One officials say there is limited capacity in the distribution system at the connection point in the Milford and therefore limited prospects for these developers.
This constraint suggests that perhaps only two or three projects, consisting of fewer than 30 wind turbines, will be allowed to connect to the station in Milford. Hydro One officials suggested it is unlikely the grid would expand southward. If it were to expand capacity in any direction in the County it would most likely be toward the west to Hillier and Ameliasburgh, as the IESO is seen as reluctant to extend the grid too far off the Highway 401 corridor.
Skypower’s Basil confirmed that access and proximity to the transmission was one of the key determinants in the site location of their proposed wind farm.
When built, Skypower’s wind turbines will be, by a wide margin, the tallest structures in the County. This is one of the reasons many municipalities are setting clear rules about who takes these machines down when either they stop working or the provincial procurement contracts run out.
He speculated, too, that few of the proposed developments south of Picton would likely be approved. Skypower’s environmental manager, Senen Salacup, added that new noise restrictions being considered by the province would also serve to limit further wind development in Prince Edward County.
It was left to committee chair Brian Marisett to ask about the money.
Last year the municipality of Wolfe Island struck a deal with Canadian Hydro Developers for $7,500 for each turbine per year (about $645,000 per year).
Marisett wanted to know what Skypower was bringing to the table, hinting broadly he was looking for similar deal. Basil sidestepped the question, choosing instead to refer the chair to the benefit to the community through its payment to the landowners through leases, to hotel rooms and meals for construction crews and the like.
“There will be opportunities for your town,” assured Basil. “Our objective would be to develop a community benefit package jointly with you.”
INTERIM CONTROL BYLAW
The committee also heard arguments for an interim control bylaw to govern wind farm developments. Planning staff are currently developing a draft bylaw are expected to deliver it next month.
But Skypower’s consultant Mercier said such and exercise would be redundant and might unnecessarily slow down the process. Essex County, he said, embarked on a similar process and in the end came to the same conclusions as the developer. “They spent $100,000 on their report,” said Mercier. “We spent $2 million. Our process is better and more complete.”
Mercier would like the municipality to alter the Official Plan for the County to recognize Skypower’s development. To that end he brought with him a draft Official Plan Amendment. He would like Council to pass it quickly.
“Time is important,” said Mercier.
Skypower hopes to get the pieces of the project it needs put together by the fall so that it submit a proposal under the first round of the province’s latest renewable energy procurement program. Last month the province announce it’s intention to purchase 2,000 MW of renewable energy under their third request for proposals from generators.
Unlike many other wind prospectors prowling the County, Skypower has the financing and operational clout to move this project along at a quick pace. Lehman Brothers holds the largest stake in the company but since financial stocks in US began melting down this past winter, the large Manhattan based investment bank has signalled it might be willing to reduce its holding in the Canadian company.
Skypower has 200 projects currently under development in several countries, encompassing about 11,000 MW of electricity generating capacity. Though it remains unclear whether the young company has yet erected a wind turbine.
16 July 2008
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