For the second time since 2012, Eastern Kings residents have been given the first invitation to host an expansion of its East Point wind farm northeast of Munns Road. Like the previous offer, residents have just weeks to decide if they want it.
Close to 100 people attended an informal presentation hosted by the PEI Energy Corporation (PEIEC) last Thursday evening at the Eastern Kings Community Centre to hear the offer. Asked why the offer has such a short shelf life, PEIEC said they had been busy with their mega project, laying additional submarine cables to transfer power between PEI and New Brunswick.
When that work finished this spring, PEIEC turned to the next major item on its agenda which is a 2019 expansion of wind turbines on PEI. The infrastructure is already largely in place for an expansion in East Point, with a substation at that site and new power lines capable of carrying 70 megawatts of turbine generated power from Church Road and West Royalty substations.
When the offer was made in 2012, a community referendum resulted in a vote of 171-131 in favour of accepting the proposal but a final agreement was not reached and the project did not proceed.
The 30 megawatt expansion would include either 10 turbines capable of generating three megawatts each or 15 slightly smaller turbines generating 2-2.5 megawatts each.
First, however, the project needs to get a green light from area residents and community council by the end of July. Preliminary work must begin in August for the project to move ahead and be completed by 2019. The window of opportunity to complete studies on bird migratory routes must happen this fall and those are just one aspect of the year-long environmental studies required to determine the effects additional turbines could have on local plants and wildlife.
If Eastern Kings rejects the expansion, worth an estimated $60 million, alternate sites in Hermanville/Clear Springs or North Cape will be considered.
The motivation for the project is not that everyone will profit greatly but rather to protect the environment and provide local, stable electricity, both the supply and its price tag, into the future.
In his presentation to the group, wind expert Carl Brothers of Frontier Power Systems, Georgetown, said in 20 years the turbines will still be operating independently of any fossil fuel and therefore exempt from price increases in the cost of fuel. In two years, he said, the fuel savings and profit from electricity produced by a single turbine will cover its initial cost.
The 10-year provincial Energy Strategy focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing cost effective energy producing strategies and creating local economic activity. Fully 26 per cent of electricity Prince Edward Island is currently produced by turbines.
“Prince Edward Island has been a world leader in wind energy since the 1970s,” said Heather MacLeod, Manager of Energy assets for PEIEC. “PEI had the first commercial wind farm in Atlantic Canada. It is a world class wind region.”
Having favourable winds is only part of the equation though, and constant adjustments must be made from the time the raw wind power hits the turbines’ blades and the point of delivery, when utility companies process and provide it to customers. All energy created by the Energy Corporation on PEI is sold on PEI. What is not needed here is sold by Maritime Electric. Surplus power created through an expansion would be sold on an open market.
Maritime Electric does not have the infrastructure needed to make the hour-by hour adjustments needed to “balance” the generated power, but New Brunswick Power does. However, Mr Brothers said NBP has indicated they will impose surcharges to balance the additional power coming from PEI. Getting the best rates for those essential services will be PEIEC’s job.
The expansion would create a minimum of three full-time jobs that could be filled by graduates of Holland College’s Energy Systems Engineering Technician program. The construction process will have its own demands for skilled labour and materials, especially cement.
With federal and provincial mandates to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as wind turbines come paybacks to the implementers and the host communities.
In 2014 PEIEC established the Northside Windmill Enhancement Fund (NWEF) to reward Hermanville/Clearspring for hosting a wind farm. The fund, administered through the Department of Rural and Regional Development has granted almost $700,000 to small businesses and non profit organizations at a yearly rate of $125,000, from 2014 and continuing until 2019, when the agreement will be reviewed and possibly increased. Funds not used one year are rolled forward into the next year.
Overall, most people in attendance seemed to support the idea for the economics and the high-tech job opportunities that could help young people live and work on the Island.