Wind farm gusts renewable energy into Dawson Creek
A turbine's energy output 100 times what it was 15 years ago
A row of 34, three-megawatt wind turbines that make up AltaGas' Bear Mountain Wind Park graces the horizon in Dawson Creek, reminding local residents that B.C.'s first fully-operational wind park is right in their back yard.
And it's a home-sown project, too. It was a group of local residents who initially formed the Peace Energy Cooperative, which acquired the rights to research and develop Bear Mountain for a commercial-scale wind park back in 2004.
Dawson Creek mayor Mike Bernier sees Bear Mountain as an example of the innovation and collaboration that makes the city a sustainability leader.
"We are seizing the competitive advantage of the region's resources and geography and developing our city, while supporting industries, job creation and environmental stewardship," he says.
Adding wind to B.C.'s generation mix
Canada began commercial wind energy production in 1993 with the establishment of the Cowley Ridge Wind Farm in Alberta, and our country's current wind energy capacity is more than 4,800 megawatts.
While B.C. leans heavily on hydroelectric power, wind energy is considered to be one of the most promising emerging green power sources in B.C. Technology has advanced so rapidly in recent years that the sound of a turbine is half of what is was three years ago, and the energy output per turbine a hundred times greater than 15 years ago.
A different kind of independent power project
In 2006, BC Hydro awarded an Energy Purchase Agreement (EPA) to Bear Mountain Wind Limited Partnership, which is owned by AltaGas Ltd.
It took about two years of work for the wind park to be built and connected to the BC Hydro electrical system, and when Bear Mountain went live on October 24, 2009 it became the first wind park to go into commercial operation in B.C. The Dokie Ridge project near Chetwynd started operations in February, 2011.
In the most recent Clean Power Call, BC Hydro chose six wind projects, with five located in the Peace region and one on Vancouver Island.
B.C.'s estimated potential onshore wind energy capacity is about 16,000 MW annually — more than the combined capacity of all current BC Hydro generating stations. But wind brings unique challenges.
"Even though run-of-river [independent power projects] also supply intermittent power, wind energy has much greater fluctuations, which makes both forecasting and integrating wind technology into the BC Hydro system challenging," says Kathy Shaw, a contract manager with BC Hydro who has worked on both the Bear Mountain and Dokie Ridge projects.
A city matures
The so-called "wind-powered city" of Dawson Creek is putting the electricity that Bear Mountain Wind Park is supplying to good use.
With unprecedented growth in the oil and gas industries, new developments include housing, hotels and a new cultural centre. The city is no longer only Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway or solely an agriculture town; it has matured to become the hub of the Peace Region with the population reaching almost 12,000.
Bear Mountain and the potential for further wind power development in the North has given a boost to educational opportunities locally. Last winter, Northern Lights College launched a Wind Turbine Maintenance Technician program that takes in 16 students each year.
Big wind, and challenges at Bear Mountain
The economics of a wind park depend on how windy the site is, and that — along with close proximity to roads and power lines — made Bear Mountain an attractive location. But the high winds also made installation of the turbines a challenge.
Brock John, director of wind operations for AltaGas says there was only a small window of opportunity to get the 34 turbines in place during low-wind periods in late summer.
Each of the 34 foundations required 350 cubic metres of concrete to be poured in just 10 hours.
"The turbine towers and blades could only be lifted by the high capacity cranes on calm days, so we had to plan things carefully to get all the turbines in place," he says. "We were proud to finish this first-ever wind project for AltaGas on budget and ahead of schedule."