News Local

Wind farm will still happen - MB Hydro says

Greg Vandermeulen

The company that will be building the St. Joseph Wind Farm is not the same one that started the process, and the planned project is now a completely new vision, but Manitoba Hydro will not seek more requests for proposals.

"The same thing happened with St. Leon," Glenn Schneider, division manager of public affairs said.

Originally Manitoba Hydro was looking for three separate projects totalling 300 MW of power. Instead they chose a contract with BowArk Energy, who had submitted one large project.

Since then, BowArk's financial backer Babcock & Brown suffered financial setbacks in Australia, where they are based. News of their financial issues was public knowledge before Manitoba Hydro approved their bid.

Described on their website as "Babcock & Brown's thriving North American energy development group" Pattern Energy has taken over the project. On their single page website they claim they have 80 staff, and have developed, financed and placed into operation 2,000 MW of wind power in 11 states.

Plans changed

But there's a catch, Pattern Energy has now told Manitoba Hydro they will not build the agreed upon turbines to supply 300 MW. Instead they are working on financing a 138 MW project, although it remains unclear where the turbines would be placed or how many that would be.

Schneider said the project agreed to originally and the new one was still similar enough to make it worth pursuing, rather than restarting the proposal process.

"We still had original terms that we'd agreed to, except for the size," he said.

Some critics have said wind farms are not financially viable, saying it costs more to produce power than they can get on the export market.

But Schneider couldn't comment on how much they'll pay for the electricity from Pattern Energy.

"That's one of the components we need to keep confidential," he said. "It's based on what we can get on the export market."

Schneider said he was also unable to say what the St. Leon project had produced or if it had made or lost Manitoba Hydro money since its construction.

"It was certainly designed to deliver a profit to Manitoba Hydro," he said.

In 2007 the province had expressed a goal of allocating 1,000 megawatts of wind power by 2017/18. Schneider said nothing specific is planned right now.

"There's certainly interest out there from developers," he said.

Local residents have every right to be confused about what will happen. In 2005, BowArk announced plans to build 63 turbines in the area. By April of 2008, it was to be 125 turbines, which changed to 130 by Nov. 28 of that year.

The project is now described as 138 MW, yet on BowArk Energy's website they still include plans for the original project along with the original time line.

According to that plan, construction should have started in fall of 2008. By now the company was supposed to be half way through the construction process. They were supposed to be in full operation by February, 2011.

Schneider said Pattern Energy has not given them a time line as to when they hope to secure financing.

But he did say that no funds will be directed toward project construction by Manitoba Hydro.

"The developer picks up that cost," he said.

Pattern Energy did not respond to an interview request as of press time.