By Alex Rinfret-The company that wants to build a huge wind farm off the east coast of Graham Island says it has come up with a way to supply wind power to the islands.
Until now, the NaiKun Wind Energy Group Inc. intended only to connect to the mainland electricity grid with a submarine cable heading east from the proposed 320 MW project.
But last week, the company announced it has come up with a solution that will allow it to install a cable from the wind farm to supply power to the islands. The “Haidalink” plan would run a cable 50 km from the offshore substation to a substation at Tlell. From there, power would flow north to Port Clements and south to Skidegate on a three-phase transmission line.
Whether the plan becomes a reality depends on a couple of things. It won’t go ahead unless the wind farm, currently in an environmental review process, gets the green light. It must also go through the electricity plan process which BC Hydro and the Council of the Haida Nation are conducting for the islands.
“With this Haidalink, there’s no project unless there’s windmills,” explained Haida Nation president Guujaaw. “And those windmills depend on the environmental assessment, on a positive assessment.”
Guujaaw said the wind farm is undergoing three assessments, at the federal, provincial and Haida Nation levels. The Haida Nation will be carefully examining the project, he said, and won’t endorse it unless it is sure the wind farm meets its stringent environmental standards.
“Our concern always is the environment first, so we have to consider the birds and the crabs and the whales,” he said.
Wind power is not brand new technology, he said, and there are wind farms all over the world where the effects on birds and wildlife have been studied.
The portion of Hecate Strait where NaiKun wants to build its windmills is a rich crabbing area and is also used by thousands of migrating birds.
The Haida Tribal Society owns shares of NaiKun, which is a publicly listed company.
Guujaaw said the fact that the tribal society is a part owner of the company won’t be a problem when it comes to the environmental assessment or to the community electricity plan process. That process will see BC Hydro and the CHN evaluating various proposals to replace the diesel generators on the islands; the Haidalink/NaiKun project is now expected to be one of those proposals.
“It’s the best project that gets chosen,” Guujaaw said, adding that he expects BC Hydro will have the final word. “BC Hydro is going to be looking at costs and efficiency.”
In any case, the Haida are exploring several other energy projects and would like to have some kind of business interest in whatever system ends up producing power here, Guujaaw said.
Also last week, NaiKun and the Council of the Haida Nation signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the first phase of the project.
The memorandum establishes a framework to govern the relationship between the Haida Nation and NaiKun for the construction and operation of the project, the company said. If the project is approved, NaiKun expects to start construction in 2009.
CHN vice-president Arnie Bellis said the agreement is simply an understanding, and not a legally binding agreement or a business agreement.
Mr. Bellis is also chair of the Haida Power Authority, a board set up by the Haida Nation to evaluate and explore various energy options.
Two facts stand out above all others when it comes to the islands and energy, Mr. Bellis said. First, islanders are the biggest per capita polluters in Canada because most of the electricity we use is generated by burning diesel. Second, energy opportunities are available here, whether oil and gas, wind or tidal, and the world knows it.
“The Haida Nation has to deal with these things, and they are,” he said.
The NaiKun wind farm has the potential to produce clean energy for islanders, he said, as well as to link the islands to the BC grid. That would mean much more consistent power here.
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