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Despite opposition, there may be no stopping the winds of change. (Heribert Proeppe)
Despite opposition, there may be no stopping the winds of change. (Heribert Proeppe)

The future's a breeze

Company hopes wind's at its back Add to ...

When Matt Burns hosts town hall meetings in Masset and Queen Charlotte City next week, he'll come armed with details about the number and size of turbines NaiKun Wind Energy Group wants to plant in Hecate Strait, between the Queen Charlotte Islands and Prince Rupert on the mainland.

If approved, the project would become the first ocean-based wind farm in North America.

Mr. Burns, NaiKun's vice-president, also expects to field questions about how an offshore wind farm would affect migratory birds and whether wind power can fly in a place that's historically relied on cheap, plentiful hydroelectricity.

And in a province where run-of-river hydro projects were an election issue, he can also expect to be grilled on such topics as whether power from the project would be exported and how much it would do to combat climate change.

On that front, NaiKun hopes the winds of public opinion will blow in its favour.

"What we're starting to hear people say is, 'If we want to make a difference in climate change, people have to step up and support green technologies,'" Mr. Burns said yesterday from Prince Rupert, where NaiKun was scheduled to hold an open house last night. "In the last six months, we've really started to hear that resonate."

At the local level, NaiKun's proposal is ringing alarm bells over issues such as migratory birds and the region's crab fishery.

The project would consist of up to 110 turbines in Hecate Strait and have a capacity of about 396 megawatts. (Site C, a massive dam on Peace River now under consideration by B.C. Hydro, would be a 900-megawatt facility.) Under the current proposal, wind turbines would be erected "right in the middle" of the region's most productive crab fishing area, Geoff Gould, executive director of the Area A Crab Association, said yesterday.

The proposed turbine array would occupy about 85 square kilometres and "that would mean, we're quite sure, that we would no longer be able to crab in that area," Mr. Gould said.

A report filed as part of NaiKun's environmental assessment says the potential impact of the project on the crab fishery would be "quite small," amounting to less than a 3-per-cent reduction in overall harvest levels for the fishery, which generates between $25-million and $30-million a year.

NaiKun has also filed lengthy reports about the project's potential impact on the area's thousands of birds, which include ducks, loons and shearwaters. At this point, the company is looking at mitigation measures that include minimizing lighting on turbines to make them less of a beacon for birds at night.

NaiKun's current proposal is for up 110 turbines, but the company has floated a concept for a staged project that could be five times that large.

Next week's open houses are part of an environmental review process for the company's project, one of 19 wind projects submitted to B.C. Hydro's 2008 Clean Power Call. (The bulk of the proposals, 45 of 68, were for hydroelectric projects.) Of the 19 wind projects, NaiKun's is the only offshore proposal.

Offshore wind capacity accounts for only about 1-per-cent current installed wind capacity, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group.

During B.C.'s recent election campaign, the New Democratic Party promised a six-month moratorium on independent power projects if the party was elected.

With the Liberals back in office, independent power producers are now waiting for the outcome of B.C. Hydro's Clean Power Call.

NaiKun has struck commercial and partnership agreements with several Indian bands, including the Haida Nation, and proposes to link Haida Gwaii to the provincial electricity grid as part of its project.

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