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Major wind project touted in Big Lakes

A major wind project in Big Lakes County could produce as much as $100 million in tax revenue in the next 25 years.

Bryan Clake, president of Joss Wind Power Inc., attended the county meeting July 28 by Zoom along with several partners. He sought council’s support in its efforts to make the Northern Lights Wind Power project a reality.

“We’re hoping for a political letter of support,” he told council.

“It’s not a technical issue, it’s a regulatory issue.”

Alberta Environment and Parks must change its rules to allow the project to proceed.

Joss Wind wants to build about 100 wind turbines [windmills] reaching 110 meters in height by Swan Hills in Big Lakes County. However, it will agree to a smaller pilot project, if granted permission.

The problem is, the sites are located on Crown land and the Alberta government [AEP] has no policy for allowing wind generating projects on Crown land, contrary to oil and gas development. As a result, almost all wind projects in Alberta are located south of Red Deer.

“Good wind sites in Alberta tend to be on public lands,” said Clake.

The area Joss Wind is considering is already heavily logged and would have little environmental impact. Clake said the company can stay on existing roads and work with forestry and energy companies to minimize risk.

He added the company has completed extensive studies of the Swan Hills site and believe it is an optimum location.

“We’re just trying to find the best sites for projects,” he said.

“The best opportunities are in your county.”

Clake called the government’s inaction on allowing wind projects on Crown land a “missed opportunity” to create much-needed jobs, municipal revenue and clean energy. He alluded to projects across the border in northeastern British Columbia, especially Tumbler Ridge, which saw an economic boost after the coal collapse.

Clake hopes there will be community acceptance for the project, estimated to be in production for 50 years. Among the many benefits, he cited there was no need for subsidies to build the project, about 1,000 construction jobs would be created, and the $100 million in municipal revenue over 25 years which Clake said would be “money flowing to Big Lakes”.

“There is expansion potential of $1 billion,” he added.

“My vision is this becomes a northern Alberta investment hub where First Nations can also invest.”

And, he added, the public is generally agreeable to renewable energy projects.

“Wind is the lowest cost to power and Albertans want low power costs,” he said.

“We need jobs, government revenues and economic activity now,” one of the slides during the presentation cited.

Clake addressed the wildlife concerns by saying the location was not in a caribou habitat zone, and Joss Wind was already working with a grizzly bear expert on potential impact. He conceded that “extensive studies and mitigation were required” before construction began.

Clake also answered questions from council.

“Do you have an idea how many birds these windmills kill?” asked Councillor Robert Nygaard.

A woman accompanying Clake said two birds per year per windmill.

“If there are high mortalities, the turbines have to shut down,” she added.

It was a fact Councillor Ann Stewart disputed.

Clake also addressed the sound issue saying there were no residents nearby.

Councillor Ken Killeen noted the turbines would be built on what locals know as Goose Mountain Ridge.

“That’s perfect spot,” said Killeen.

“No one lives there.”

Space taken up by each turbine was also a concern. Clake replied each takes up about one to 1.5 acres, or the 100 turbines would total less than 300 acres.

Other facts council heard were that each turbine costs about $5.5 million [closer to $10 million including installation], each turbine would generate enough power each hour to power an average home for 23 months, and it would take Joss Wind Power three years to begin production in 2025.

Clake’s request for a letter of support to AEP Minister Jason Nixon and AEP to consider a pilot project will be considered at council’s Aug. 11 meeting.