A proposal to build a wind farm in the Nulki Hills on Saik’uz First Nation territory is gaining momentum.
As a first step toward informing the public about the project, Innergex, the Canadian renewable energy company proposing to build the wind farm, organized a meeting at the Vanderhoof Fish & Game Club on Wednesday, Jan. 16.
About 20 people attended, more than the company initially expected.
“Luckily for us there were many more people, and obviously at the starting phase of a project it’s incredibly important that we’re out there early in the community to provide information,” said Bas Brusche, director of public affairs for Innergex.
The project is still in a conceptual planning stage, and many critical decisions hinge on acquiring an electricity purchase agreement (EPA) with B.C. Hydro.
“Until we get an EPA, we can’t finance the project,” said Nuno Louzeiro, an environmental engineer for Innergex who spoke at the meeting on Wednesday.
“We need that before we can construct.”
An EPA would enable Innergex to finance construction of the project with a sense of long-term security, knowing that electricity generated by the wind farm will be purchased by B.C. Hydro for a certain number of years.
So far, the project has been identified in two phases, depending on the type of EPA acquired.
“What we’re trying to do is create options for us. That’s why it’s structured that way,” said Louzeiro.
The first phase, consisting of five to 10 turbines and generating 15 megawatts (MW) of electricity, would automatically be eligible for an EPA, according to provincial guidelines for power sales.
To link the first phase to B.C. Hydro, Innergex would build a low-capacity distribution line to existing B.C. Hydro infrastructure located 11 kilometres east of the Nulki Hills.
“If you build those turbines, obviously you need to connect them to the power lines, and the responsibility for that connection – building that transmission line – is ours,” said Brusche.
If B.C. Hydro should approve an EPA for a greater amount of electricity, Innergex will commence construction of the second phase, a far more powerful wind farm of 70 turbines that generates between 105 and 210 MW.
This phase would connect with B.C. Hydro distribution lines located 38 kilometre to the north via a high-capacity transmission line.
“If it takes a longer period of time” to acquire an EPA, “we might choose the smaller phase and build five to 10 turbines because we know we can sell it,” said Brusche.
Since both phases require a similar amount of technical work, environmental studies, public consultations and capital investment, Innergex would prefer to acquire an EPA and construct the second phase outright.
“We’re confident we can get one,” said Brusche about the EPA.
“It’s a lengthy process, and most probably after the B.C. elections there will be more clarity about these types of issues.”
As mining and mineral exploration accelerates in B.C., more renewable energy will be needed, explained Louzeiro.
Once built, the Blackwater mine alone will require about 100 MW from a usage perspective, a fairly substantial amount, but similar to most large mines, said Tim Bekhuys, director of environment and sustainability for New Gold, the project’s owner.
“Dependable power is absolutely crucial to mining operations,” he said in an interview on Oct. 15, 2012.
As of Oct. 29, 2012, there were 19 active mines in B.C., and 10 coal mines.
In 2011, spending on mineral exploration surged to almost $600 million in B.C., according to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas.
The Nulki Hills Wind Farm Project is moving forward with the environmental assessment (EA) process, which was triggered on Nov. 21, 2012, when Innergex filed a 33-page project description with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
“Because I consider that the proposed project has the potential for significant adverse effects, an EA must be undertaken and an EA certificate must be issued before the proposed project may proceed,” Teresa Morris, project assessment manager for the EAO, wrote in a statement on Nov. 27.
Innergex’s interest in developing the Nulki Hills Wind Farm Project dates back to 2008.
Last year, the company conducted surveys on wildlife habitat, bird and raptor migration, and even bat acoustics in the Nulki Hills.
In November, Brusche presented the project to Vanderhoof council.
On Friday, Jan. 18, Brusche met with Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation to present the first draft of a consultation and protocol agreement, which will be forwarded to the First Nation’s legal team for review.
“We have expectations and don’t want to be kept out of any of the development that people are proposing in our territories,” said Thomas.
The proposed Nulki Hills Wind Farm Project is one of several energy and resource development projects routed through Saik’uz, said Thomas, who has yet to appoint a special committee on resource operations.
“We’re trying to get involved, especially if its green energy – that is more palatable to our community,” she said.
Thomas said companies have been doing a better job of consulting the First Nation on their respective projects than both the provincial and federal governments.
“Really, it’s the Crown’s obligation,” she said.
“I’m just glad industry and companies are coming forward ahead of anybody else to let us know what they’re up to because, when they don’t, it doesn’t bode well.”