It was an exciting news story that jumped off front pages less than three years ago: a massive new wind farm to be built on Vancouver Island that would generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes.
The $750-million project was great news for taxpayers because it wouldn’t cost the public a penny. The TimberWest forest company was partnering with EDP Renewables, a Spanish-based global wind-energy giant, to build the 150-turbine wind farm on private land.
The local T’Sou-ke First Nation was on board, too. They were excited about the 350 construction jobs and 50 permanent operational jobs the project would produce.
Then the whole thing fell apart. About a year after the project was announced, the B.C. government said it would build the $9-billion Site C dam instead.
B.C. Hydro wasn’t interested in the project’s wind power.
“Because we haven’t been able to find a customer, we have placed the project on hold,” confirmed TimberWest spokeswoman Monica Bailey.
It’s not an isolated case. An ill wind is blowing through British Columbia’s wind-energy sector as the government forges ahead with Site C.
Last month, Northland Power pulled two proposed wind projects – one near Prince George, the other near Summerland – out of the province’s environmental-assessment process.
It comes at a time when wind-turbine technology has advanced rapidly, cutting the cost to produce wind power. It also comes as the cost – and controversy – has grown steadily around the Site C dam.
Other forms of renewable energy – solar and tidal, for example – are also withering in British Columbia as the government goes all-in on Site C.
“This makes no economic sense at all,” says an angry Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party.
“The government is killing the clean-tech sector in our province when it could be generating cheaper power than Site C. It’s madness.”
Advances in turbine technology have cut the cost to generate wind power to about five cents per kilowatt hour – less than half of the energy-unit cost of the Site C dam, Weaver argues.
But Jessica McDonald, the president of B.C. Hydro, denies the province is anti-wind.
“We will buy more wind power when we have more demand,” McDonald said.
“But a key thing about wind, like solar, is that they’re intermittent sources. You have wind power when the wind is blowing. You have solar power when the sun is shining. You need large hydroelectric to back that up.”
Rather than forcing wind power out of B.C., the Site C dam will actually enhance prospects for more wind energy in the future, she said.
That’s because the reliable “firm” supply of on-demand power from Site C will give B.C. Hydro the flexibility to add more intermittent sources like wind.
“B.C. is a great place to have a wind project,” McDonald said.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association disagrees.
“Given the construction of Site C, there’s no prospect for any significant new procurement of wind energy in the near term,” said association president Robert Hornung.
“For that reason, we’re reallocating our resources to markets where opportunities do exist.”
Translation: Canada’s largest wind-energy organization is out of here, shutting down its B.C. office and focusing on opportunities in Alberta and Saskatchewan instead.
It leaves NDP environment critic George Heyman shaking his head.
“We’re foregoing job opportunities in different parts of the province,” Heyman said. “We’re robbing ourselves of the benefits of plunging prices in advancing technologies.
“Instead, they’re sinking B.C. Hydro deep into debt to go with the dam technology of the past instead of embracing cheaper renewable-energy technology of the future that the rest of the world is clamouring for.”
Worldwide statistics appear to back up his argument. A recent report from the Global Wind Energy Council said wind projects accounted for nearly half of the world’s new electrical generating capacity installed in 2015.
The organization issued a report that trumpeted wind-power prospects in Canadian provinces outside of British Columbia.
Meanwhile, the government’s point man on liquefied natural gas production – former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson – is rubbing salt in the wind industry’s wounds.
In speeches to promote LNG, Wilson has taken shots at wind power for being bad for the environment.
“It’s not environmentally benign,” Wilson said about wind energy, saying turbine components contain “rare earth minerals” extracted from highly polluting mines in China.
“Yes, wind turbines contain these minerals, but so do cameras, TV screens, X-ray machines, MRI scanners,” counters Hornung, the wind association president.
“I’m not aware of any analysis done anywhere in the world that shows wind energy does more environmental damage than natural gas,” he added.
Despite that, the government is clearly gung ho for LNG and the Site C dam, while other renewable energy sources are gone with the wind.
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