Is B.C.'s energy answer blowin' in the wind?
Take the elevator to the 57-metre-high viewing pod on Grouse Mountain’s new wind turbine, and the first thing you’ll be struck by is the panoramic view. To the south, the sparkling city appears tiny compared to the expanse of land and water lying beyond it. To the north, snow-kissed mountain peaks stretch for hundreds of kilometres.
Just as you’re pondering your own insignificance, whoosh! Your breath is taken away by an equally stunning sight. Only 50 centimetres from the protective glass, a 37-metre-long turbine blade rushes past at over 200 kilometres per hour.
Dubbed the Eye of the Wind, the turbine is intended not only to reduce the ski resort’s dependence on the electric grid, but also to serve as a symbol of the future of renewable energy in the Lower Mainland.
“It is supposed to be iconic and have a message to Vancouver and to the world,” project manager Julia Kossowski told the Georgia Straight by phone from her office on Grouse.
But is the Eye of the Wind a sign of things to come in Vancouver? Will other white towers soon dot the North Shore mountains? Could a wind farm be built in the shallow waters off Richmond? Inconsistent wind conditions in the Lower Mainland make these scenarios unlikely.
However, Grouse Mountain’s project is a harbinger of wind-energy projects in other parts of British Columbia, which will soon help power the lights of Vancouver.
Last month, as part of its Clean Power Call program, B.C. Hydro awarded contracts to six new wind-farm projects in Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, and Port Hardy. Yet many renewable-energy supporters want to see the province move faster to increase its wind-farm capacity.
“I would love to see a huge expansion of wind power,” Guy Dauncey, president of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association, told the Straight by phone from Victoria. “Right now there’s wind rushing past, and it’s not being captured.”
Dauncey’s concern over all this untapped energy is justified. Before November 2009, when Alta-Gas Income Trust’s Bear Mountain Wind Park near Dawson Creek began generating electricity for the grid, B.C. was the only province in Canada without a single operating wind turbine.
So, why the molasses-slow adoption of wind power? According to Dauncey, the availability of cheap hydropower has limited the demand for renewable-energy sources such as wind turbines, which are more expensive. But, in its 2007 B.C. Energy Plan, the Liberal government pledged the province would become energy self-sufficient by 2016, with 90 percent of power coming from clean or renewable sources. With B.C. Hydro paying higher rates to private companies for sustainable energy, there has been an economic incentive to develop new projects. However, even with Premier Gordon Campbell pushing for more green energy, companies must take a leap of faith.
“It’s very high-risk for the developers because they have to put due-diligence work in ahead of time and they might not get a contract,” Dauncey said.
Case in point: NaiKun Wind Energy Group’s proposal to build a massive wind farm off Haida Gwaii was shelved in March after over five years of planning.