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Wind project just not viable

However noble the intentions of the proponents of a $43-million community wind farm project meant to power 16,000 homes in Saskatoon, it’s evident that the economics of the plan simply don’t add up to make it viable.

City council is taking the wise course by distancing itself from Saskatoon Community Wind because the initiative poses too much risk.

Although proponents of the 10-turbine wind farm to be established within 15 to 30 kilometres of Saskatoon have said it would be funded by individuals interested not only in renewable energy but in making a return on their investment, Community Wind’s appeal to council to fund a $40,000 feasibility study indicates that not all is rosy.

“There hasn’t been investment, there hasn’t been money put into it, and that is based on that cost-benefit analysis,” Coun. Charlie Clark said of the problems Saskatoon faces in buying electricity from a third party, especially when the wind farm is located outside city limits and will have to involve the use of SaskPower transmission lines.

Community Wind president James Glennie notes that the project is dependent on Saskatoon Light and Power purchasing the electricity, and that the high transmission and connection charges levied by SaskPower are standing in the way. While Mr. Glennie, who has experience with large nonprofit wind power projects and lobby groups in New Zealand, Britain and the United States, argues that the Crown utility’s rate structure was devised for a different time and renders some projects uneconomical, SaskPower’s position is wholly defensible.

The corporation already has the capacity to meet current demand and plans to add more generation stations to meet the growth in demand via gas-fired plants and a small hydro project in the north, as well as negotiating with Manitoba to import hydroelectricity.

If the corporation is to add more wind generation to the 4.6 per cent of its current supply now provided from wind farms in southern Saskatchewan, SaskPower CEO Robert Watson told The StarPhoenix editorial board this week that it will have to come from sources that don’t have to be subsidized. The existing wind farms are supplying the utility with power at competitive rates and are profitable, he said, and the Saskatoon group’s project is too small in scale for the economics to work.

While Mr. Glennie hopes his project will be considered when SaskPower completes a review of wind power projects in Saskatchewan, Mr. Watson doesn’t consider the corporation’s levies on third parties as unrealistically high.

As a publicly owned utility, SaskPower has an obligation to all customers to keep its rates as low as possible and deliver reliable service. If Saskatchewan’s citizens deem it worthy to invest in more green power options and subsidize these operations, that should be part of a wider public discussion than having SaskPower reduce its transmission and hook-up levies for a group of well intentioned would-be investors whose green objectives include seeking a return on their investment.

The city and SaskPower are right to stay out of the Saskatoon Community Wind project.

The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper’s editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.