News Local

Construction begins on St. Joseph wind farm

Greg Vandermeulen

Manitoba Hydro loaned $260 million to get the wind farm project underway.

Construction has started on the St. Joseph Wind Farm after Manitoba Hydro announced they would loan Pattern Energy $260 million towards the $345 million project.

After years of delays and changes to the original plan, Pattern Energy will have 60 Siemens SWT-2.3 MW turbines producing 138 MW in operation by Christmas of this year.

"These things don't generally take more than six to 12 months to build," Colin Edwards, senior developer Canada said.

The construction may be quick but getting there was not. In 2007 the call for submissions was put out by Manitoba Hydro. In November 2008, they announced they would go with a bid by Babcock and Brown Canada to build a 300 MW wind farm. That deal never materialized after their Australian parent company faced financial distress. The North American wind division was turned into Pattern Energy, with many of the same names that were involved in the first proposal.

The finances of the new deal has drawn some attention, but Edwards said the loan does not put Manitoba Hydro ratepayers or taxpayers in jeopardy.

"Hydro looks at this as a package deal," he said. "They're paying a very low price (for the power). They're making a small profit on the loan they're providing."

He agreed this wasn't what they expected when they tried to arrange financing. "It's an unconventional financing system," he said.

Manitoba Hydro president and CEO Bob Brennan would not return calls.

It is unclear if Manitoba Hydro has the money or if they must borrow it themselves. In a press release, Brennan said the cost is worth it. "We are pleased to support the addition of another renewable energy source for Manitoba at a price that is favourable for Manitobans."

Neither party would disclose the details of the 20 year construction loan or the 27 year power purchase agreement.

Edwards said there are many advantages to Manitobans as well.

The St. Joseph Wind Farm is expected to create up to 225 jobs during construction and 15 permanent positions. Millions of dollars in property taxes will be paid to education and municipalities. The power produced is enough for 50,000 homes.

When the original project was proposed, a group of citizens opposed took their R.M. officials to task on setbacks. They wanted the nearest turbine to be no closer than 1 km from a home, citing health risks.

Edwards said the closest turbine to a home will be 550 metres, but most are much more than that. "That's a best practices set back limit in Canada," he said. "We've taken 550 metres as the minimum."

Because the wind farm is smaller than anticipated, some producers will not see a wind turbine on their property after all. "If we could we'd give every land owner a turbine," Edwards said. "Unfortunately we can't satisfy everybody."

However, all producers who supported the project will receive an "up front bonus payment, whether they have a turbine or not."

Edwards said they are looking forward to a good relationship with the area.

"We're hoping to be good neighbours in the community for a long time," he said.