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More than 300 turbines planned in area wind projects

Wind energy projects around Medicine Hat aren’t just blowing hot air anymore with a total of 307 turbines spread across four projects expected to be installed in the next two years.

In total, NaturEner’s Wild Rose I and II, Pteragen’s Peace Butte as well as the City of Medicine Hat and WindRiver’s Box Springs Wind Farm will represent nearly 500 megawatts of electricity production if all goes to plan.

For the industry’s advocacy group, Canadian Wind Energy Association, this is just the tip of the iceberg with an estimated 5,000 megawatts of easily accessible production available in Alberta.

CanWEA released its Windvision 2025 report Wednesday in an effort to respond to the Alberta government’s call for creating a strategy for alternative energy production framework.

CanWEA’s regional director Lana Norgaard said the group’s primary focus is seeing the creation of a clean electricity standard. That standard would see a set maximum greenhouse gas emissions-intensity level allowed by the province’s electricity retailers.

The secondary measure would to see an increase in the $15-a-tonne carbon tax on large greenhouse gas emitters in the province.

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“The clean electricity standard goes a long way to providing the certainty required in financing new projects,” said Norgaard.

“Increasing the dollars per tonne the additional revenue stream garnered from that would improve the projects’ economics.”

The impetus for such ideas is coming from the Alberta government looking for solutions from the industry to help “green the grid,” she added.

“And they are doing that as they work to develop an alternative and renewable energy strategy … We’ve been told the formal consultation process to develop the strategy will happen in the early fall,” said Norgaard.

Such a strategy would dove-tail nicely with the Economic Development Agency of Southeast Alberta’s support of renewable projects in this corner of the province.

EDA’s associate director Nichola Kondra said the current boom in wind energy projects in the area is aligning with the availability of the resource and the increased value of alternative energy.

“Our area has a real advantage for consistent wind source and expected sunshine hours. By bringing in these types of alternative energy sources, we have a real advantage,” said Kondra.

Such renewable energy projects also help to elevate the community’s profile as “a progressive area in the world for taking on these new technologies,” she added.

“It’s exciting to bring in this type of high-level infrastructure. It creates jobs in construction, excavating, heavy equipment operators and really supports the local community.”

But while there is a push to see more renewable energy projects, area conservation group Grasslands Naturalists has some reservations regarding wind farms.

Grasslands president John Slater said the issue for the group is the preservation of prairie landscapes.

“If the towers and infrastructure roads, et cetera, go on native prairie land then that’s a concern versus putting them on cultivated land or near existing roads and minimizing the footprint,” said Slater.

Another point of concern is the hazard the turbines are to both birds especially endangered and species at risk as well as bats.

The visual impact is also a concern for the group.

“If you are up in the Cypress Hills’ viewpoints and you see these towers, how obstructive is it going to be to the natural viewpoints,” asked Slater.

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