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Watt’s Happening: Wind Plan for the Peace

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

By Don Pettit

Long term, stable economic development, full employment, more prosperous farms and ranches, and a clean environment. That’s what the Peace Country of Northeast British Columbia has to GAIN.

Long-term, home-grown green electricity for a power-hungry world. That’s what the Peace Country has to GIVE.

I’m talking about wind: our newest, and I will argue our most valuable, Peace Country resource. Most valuable? Certainly.

LOTS OF WIND. LOTS OF JOBS

Dawson Creek’s own Peace Energy Cooperative led the “wind rush” into the Peace (a sort of low-key gold rush) about 10 years ago with the launch of the Bear Mountain Wind Park project. Since then Dokie Wind near Chetwynd and Quality Wind near Tumbler Ridge have also come on-line, for a total of about 500 megawatts (MW). The cost (to private developers, not taxpayers) was about $1 billion.

Standing in the wings waiting to happen: another 1,000 MW scattered along the foothills between Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. Estimated total capacity of easily developed wind in the BC

Peace: 10,000 MW. Cost to build: $20 billion dollars. Expected useful life of the infrastructure, and life of the energy resource itself? FOREVER.

Yes folks, wind power is forever. An energy source that does not burn fuel not only never runs out of fuel, but eliminates the costs and environmental impacts of finding fuel, extracting fuel, refining it, pumping, storing, pipelining and trucking it, then dealing with the pollution and health costs created by burning it. As wind and other renewables become mainstream, those costs quickly fade into history.

WIND CAPITAL OF CANADA

With these facts in mind, a sensible and wise provincial government (we can only keep hoping) could easily make the BC Peace “Wind Capital of Canada.” It would be a snap, really. Mostly a matter of letting it happen. Private developers are waiting for provincial go-ahead, eager to install the infrastructure at essentially no cost to taxpayers.

If we fully develop our wind resource, we’ll see blade factories here, tower fabrication plants, huge shipping, trucking and rail contracts, tens of thousands of construction jobs over decades, and thousands of permanent hi-tech maintenance, management and engineering jobs (to keep the power flowing) stretching into, again, forever.

Planning for big wind also means stretching the water resource of BC’s existing hydro capacity (the two existing dams on the Peace River are together rated at 3,430 MW peak): when the wind is blowing, hold back water; when the wind subsides, let more water through the turbines. This technique is used with success in Norway and has proven to improve the reliability and efficiency of both resources.

Very low footprint too. 10,000 megawatts of commercial-scale wind would have a physical footprint of only about 80 square kilometers. Picture a square of land less than 10 kilometers on a side, but thinly spread out along the vast area of our Rocky Mountain foothills, scattered here and there on farms and ranches (a welcome diversification of farm income that can be willed to their children, and their children!), and on occasional ridges like Bear Mountain. While operating, (that is, while powering most of western Canada) essentially zero pollution, carbon or otherwise.

A PERFECT FIT

Knowing the Peace Region as I do, I think wind power is a perfect fit – a new, fresh, hi-tech, environmentally responsible and long-term (not boom and bust) vision for the 21st century that fits our regional mind-set and culture perfectly. As a sustainable economic base, coupled with our existing agricultural base, nothing could be more perfect.

And why not have a good portion of that wind power owned locally, cooperatively, a model used around the world with great success? Once again, an idea well suited to the Peace Region where the coop model of ownership is already firmly established. And hey, wind power inspires our youth. They might even stay here and work, permanently.

The Peace Region can be both green and prosperous. All that is needed is visionary political will, a plan, and the wisdom to carefully implement it.

When the oil and gas are long gone, when shifting weather patterns and melting glaciers have put even hydro power in question, the sun will still be shining and the wind will still be blowing.

Don Pettit is a director of the board of Peace Energy Cooperative.

Image caption: A comprehensive wind power plan for the BC Peace Region could quickly make us “Wind Capital of Canada” while keeping our environment clean, providing steady growth and full employment now . . . and for future generations. (Don Pettit photo)