Manitoba’s newest wind farm may be up and running in six weeks, weather permitting.
All 60 wind turbines at the site should be fully commissioned by the end of February unless winter storms delay construction, said Amin Shakill, project manager for Pattern Energy Group LP, which owns and operates the project.
As of last week, 45 turbines had been erected, 20 of them were mechanically ready and seven were rotating their blades.
At full capacity, the turbines will generate 138 megawatts of electricity for Manitoba Hydro, enough to power 50,000 homes.
Fifty-five turbines are located in the Rural Municipality of Montcalm. The others are in the R.M. of Rhineland.
St. Joseph, located 80 km south of Winnipeg, is the second and largest wind farm in Manitoba. The other one at St. Leon generates 99 megawatts.
St. Joseph and St. Leon will generate 237 megawatts of energy combined, making them together one of the 10 largest wind operations in Canada, according to Manitoba Hydro.
Construction at St. Joseph began in April 2010 and was scheduled for completion in December. But an unusually wet summer delayed work at the site.
Otherwise, the work has gone smoothly, Shakill said as he showed a visitor around his new office, open just a month and not yet fully furnished.
“We’ve made very good progress,” he said.
Shakill said the project has been good for the local economy, creating over 200 jobs during construction. Spinoff benefits include $38 million in land-rental payments to farmers over the 27-year life of the project. Tax revenue to municipalities during that time is estimated at $44 million.
The project has not been without controversy. St. Joseph was originally scheduled to generate 300 megawatts of power and cost $360 million to build. But after winning the project bid, Pattern, a California-based energy company, had difficulty raising capital because of the recession. Manitoba Hydro loaned Pattern up to $260 million, repayable over 20 years. Pattern put down $95 million of its own. The project was downsized to 138 megawatts.
Critics called Hydro’s loan a bailout and termed it unfair to unsuccessful bidders who could not have known government aid would be involved.
But Shakill said the loan is no different from a mortgage, making Hydro, which buys the power, a full partner in the project.
The energy from Manitoba’s wind farms is supplementary to the electric power transmission network. At peak, it will comprise less than five per cent of Hydro’s 5,000-megawatt generation capacity.
But Shakill said wind power is still an important player among alternative energy sources.
Manitoba Hydro has a stated goal of 1,000 megawatts of wind power by 2015. However, no further wind farms are planned for the near future, a Hydro spokesperson said.
Wind power makes up a relatively high percentage of electricity production in some European countries, albeit helped by government subsidies. In Denmark, 20 per cent of stationary electricity comes from wind turbines.
Wind energy is touted as a good alternative to fossil fuels because it is plentiful (when the wind blows), renewable and produces no greenhouse gases.
Among criticisms levelled at wind turbines are that their rotating blades are noisy, kill birds and create “shadow flicker” which disturbs nearby residents.
That may have been true with early small turbines, Shakill said. However, he added, the new turbines are larger and rotate more slowly, resulting in fewer bird kills and very little noise. Shadow flicker is also not permitted by regulation.
Julien Brais, who farms at St. Joseph, has one turbine on his land. Although ambivalent about it at first, he reasoned he might as well agree to it and get paid rather than let someone else receive the benefit.
Brais acknowledged wind turbines may appear obtrusive and some aren’t entirely happy about it.
But that’s what people said about grain elevators and power lines when they emerged on the Prairies. Today, they are a natural part of the landscape, Brais said. [email protected]
– AMIN SHAKILL