Wind, a clean energy source, may become a hot commodity for industrial developments trying to meet government environmental conditions.
At least, that is what the new owners of the Mt. McDonald Wind Energy Project are thinking. The wind project first came to light under Bridge Power, the original developer that identified the site in 2008 and built the four 80 metre MET masts, for acquiring wind data.
The company began to develop the project and started to move through the environmental assessment process until 2015.
“With no clear market opportunity we decided to withdraw from that process,” Mark Grant, vice president of Bridge Power said in a petition to Port Edward council on Nov. 22.
In late 2015, they sold the project to Invenergy. But with Bridge Power doing much of the leg work and having more familiarity with Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Port Edward they are assisting Invenergy to help reinstate the project.
There are currently two MET masts on Smith Island but only one that is standing on Mt. McDonald, the northern mast has collapsed.
“Invenergy is keen to build the project, develop it. They just did some refits on the MET masts that were up within the last two months. The site is continuing to collect data,” Grant said.
The manager of business development for Invenergy, Michelle Hassen, presented updates on the proposed project to council.
Invenergy is involved in mostly renewable energy, as well as natural gas. The Chicago-based company has been working in North America for more than 10 years and is the largest independent wind producer with nearly 8,000 megawatts already in operation. One megawatt powers 300 homes.
Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald asked Hassen if the project would feed energy to the U.S.
“The way energy works is that it goes to the first area of need. Some of it would get consumed here and any extra would start flowing down,” she said.
The Mt. McDonald Wind Project is expected to bring 200 megawatts – which would provide energy to approximately 60,000 homes.
When Invenergy took over the project, they picked up where Bridge Power left off, adding their own expertise. Right now they’re looking at the geography and topography to see what is possible.
The company has five projects they’ve acquired from Bridge Power in B.C., four are in the northeast where most of the wind is in the province. Mt. McDonald is unique because it’s the only one in the northwest.
The project brings variety and geographic diversity, which is good for the grid and BC Hydro.
“Mt. McDonald is great for that. It’s also obviously great because of being close to a growing area where lots of development is happening and potential for more growth is on the horizon,” Hassen said.
Right now, Invenergy is looking at the market viability of the project. Hassen said that BC Hydro is not procuring any large projects, only 15 megawatts or smaller, due to the development of the Site C dam that will produce 1,100 megawatts of energy.
However, there are many dynamics in the province that could change the situation. There could soon be an increased demand for energy due to new projects coming online, such as liquefied natural gas and mining projects that would add more load onto the grid.
Another factor that’s increasing interest in this project is that wind and solar energy could provide offsets for green house gas emissions.
“We’ve looked at what the pipeline for offsets are in B.C. for those projects that do qualify and there’s nowhere near enough to qualify for what Pacific NorthWest LNG’s needs of offsets to get it to the benchmark of what the provincial government has set,” Hassen said.
However, currently wind energy does not qualify as an offset in B.C. David Karn, spokesperson for the ministry of environment said that in the August 2016 Climate Leadership Plan the province committed to increase the requirement for clean energy from 93 per cent to 100 per cent. Wind power is considered clean energy at 100 per cent and “renewable generators are not facing any competition from fossil generators, and consequently, are not avoiding or reducing any greenhouse gas emissions.”
“A greenhouse gas offset must be attributable to one tonne of greenhouse gasses reduced or avoided, and the revenue from an offset usually contributes to overcoming a cost hurdle between the project and a reasonable alternative, in this case, renewables and conventional generation. As the B.C. commitment is for 100 per cent clean and renewable, there is no barrier or cost hurdle to overcome. We have eliminated the need for an offset,” Karn said in the email.
Should the Mt. McDonald project move forward due to a need for more clean and renewable energy in the northwest there would be potentially 70 towers installed on the mountain and Smith Island.
The proponent is also looking at road access to the project.
It’s discussing with BC Hydro to determine aspects of the market and it’s engaging with regional stakeholders, such as Port Edward council and residents.
The project would produce temporary construction jobs, and Hassen said there would be at least 15 permanent positions.
Councillor James Brown expressed his concerns about how the wind project would affect wildlife. More research will examine the potential risks and necessary mitigation measures in the environmental assessment process should Invenergy move forward. Sound studies would also be included.
Reviving the Mt. McDonald Wind Energy Project does slightly hinge on if Pacific NorthWest LNG decides to build its export terminal.
“Even the fact that (Pacific NorthWest LNG) could come online creates opportunities for us whether it’s offsets from a project like ours,” Hassen said.
She is certain they would be ready for Pacific NorthWest LNG if need be. The wind project could be built within the proponent’s timeline, and it would take a minimum of two years to build.
Port Edward council did not offer its immediate support for the project.
Mayor MacDonald said council will discuss it first, and would like the public to have the opportunity to learn more about the project through an open house.