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Alberta okays wind farm; Ball in city’s court to fund $25M project

The provincial government has given the go-ahead to the City of Medicine Hat’s proposed wind farm. Now it is up to council to decide if it wants to cough up the approximately $25 million it will cost to build it.
The wind farm was granted regulatory approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission in late December. The proposed eight megawatt project involves four wind turbines that would be built on the east side of Box Springs Road near the city’s northern boundary. The wind farm would produce enough power to service 3,000 homes.
The city first began looking into wind power in January 2005 and submitted a formal application to the province almost two years ago. Russ Smith, the city’s manager of energy sustainability, told the News it has been a long road to get to this point.
“The outcome in the end was what we had hoped and expected, but until you have that piece of paper in hand, you really don’t know,” Smith said.
A decision item will likely be coming before council in mid-February or early March – but it’s no sure thing. Natural gas prices are low right now, meaning making electricity the old-fashioned way is relatively cheap. And the low natural gas prices are taking a hit on the city’s overall finances, which will make whether to commit $25 million to an expensive technology a tough decision.
“It’s going to be close, I think,” said Ald. Ted Clugston, chair of the city’s energy committee and a supporter of the wind farm. “You need about $10 a gigajoule gas or $100 a MW electricity to make it worthwhile, and we’re not there. But I hope council will see it as a long-term investment, a 25-year type thing… We always say diversification is the best way, to not have all your eggs in one basket, and I see this as a small way of doing that.”
Mayor Norm Boucher told the News he is on the fence, in part because he doesn’t see much in the way of support from the province when it comes to wind energy. That means the city would likely foot the majority of the bill itself.
“It’s a tough question. Do we have the vision to buy it now with the hope of making money down the road to pay for it? Because right now it would be hard to pay for,” Boucher said. “We could do it. We’ve got money there on the energy side, but maybe we should hold it and do something else.”
Ald. Jeremy Thompson, also a member of the city’s energy committee, said he has been in favour of the project since day one. However, he also acknowledged it may be a tough sell around the council table.
“I think no matter what the price tag is, there will be some council members that won’t go for it,” Thompson said. “I think there are some who are just not in favour of green power at this time, because they look at the economics and question the sustainability.”
In granting regulatory approval, the Alberta Utilities Commission assessed various aspects of the project including the proposed connection to the provincial electricity grid, noise, and the potential impact on birds, bats, and plant life.
If city council approves the project, the target date of completion would be late 2012 or early 2013.