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Blue Highlands Wind Power Generation Facility

     The Blue Highlands Industrial Wind Power Plant has been a proposal in a constant state of flux. When first announced, it was a 134 turbine proposal with an installed capacity of 200 MW. Superior Wind Energy Inc. (SWEI) was initially a joint venture between Brascan (51%) and Harmony Wind Energy Inc. (49%). Brascan Corporation is a Toronto based energy and real estate conglomerate with 2002 revenues in excess of $4.81 billion. Harmony Wind Energy Inc. is a private company which we understand was controlled by a Northern Ontario businessman. For reference purposes we will continue to refer to the developer in parts of the website as "Brascan/SWEI". The project is now wholly owned (100%) by Brascan, and Superior Wind Energy has now been renamed Brascan Power Wind.

     Brascan Power Wind was proposing to install a 120 MW (approximately 67 turbines) wind power generation facility on top of the Niagara Escarpment in The Town of Blue Mountains and the Municipality of Grey Highlands. (click here to view a map of the affected area). Based on August, 2003 statistics, the "Blue Highlands" facility would have been the ninth largest wind power generation facility in North America. We believe the reduction from 200 MW to 120MW was due to the capacity limitations of the transmission line that runs through the proposed project area.

     As of December 12th 2005, Brascan announced that they are concentrating on Phase I of the project, 20 to 30 turbines with an installed capacity of 49.5 MW on a strip of Escarpment tablelands adjacent to NEC protected lands in the Town of Blue Mountains. Despite all reference to Phase II of the project (Grey Highlands) being removed from their website, they have verbally indicated they are still interested in Grey Highlands for possible future phases of the project. (click here to view their current page on the Blue Highlands Project).

     One thing readers just learning about wind power should realize is that the installed capacity of a wind power plant does not represent its actual output over time. The actual "uptime" or capacity factor of this plant would at best be 34%. This means the installed capacity of 49.5 MW would actually only mean about 16 or 17 MW added to the provincial grid capacity. The peak demand in Ontario during the summer of 2005 was 26,160 MW.

Scale of the Project

     Many people don't realize that, based on installed MegaWatt capacity comparisons, the proposed “Blue Highlands” wind power generation facility would be one of the largest land-based wind power generation facilities in the world.

     During July of 2003, the Blue Highlands Citizens Coalitions conducted extensive research into the size of North America 's wind power generation facilities. Based on rated Megawatt capacity and American Wind Energy Association statistics current to July of 2003, the “Blue Highlands” wind power generation facility, at its originally-proposed rated capacity of 200 MW, would be the second-largest land-based wind power generation facility in North America ! Even at the reduced rated capacity of 120 MW, the “Blue Highlands” project would be in the top 15 of North America 's largest wind power generation facilities. You can view a table summarizing our August 2003 research in this area by clicking here.

     At its August 24, 2003 public information meeting in Feversham, the Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition presented photographs of North America 's 20 largest wind power generation facilities. Those photographs indicate that these large facilities are uniformly located in areas which are very sparsely populated and where few, if any, competing land use patterns are apparent. Indeed, we are not aware of any example of a wind power generation facility of a scale comparable to that of the proposed “Blue Highlands” project which is located in an area with similar environmental sensitivities and with a comparable land use pattern (proximity to the Escarpment and population density of the area). This points to the need for a cautious and balanced approach regarding the installation of such a relatively large-scale wind power generation facility within our community.

     To view web sites with pictures demonstrating the landscape features and population densities in the areas where North America's largest facilities have been installed, click here.

     Note to Reader: Please note that the links we have provided to permit you to view photos of other large-scale wind power generation facilities have been provided so that you can consider the characteristics of those areas in which large-scale wind power development has occurred (e.g., land use patterns, population density, etc.) The photos should not be relied upon as indications of what the proposed “Blue Highlands” wind power generation facility would look like, since to this point Brascan Power Wind has not provided the public with specific information regarding the proposed sites and configurations for its turbine installations.

The Brascan/SWEI Corporate Strategy

     The Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition is very concerned by the suitability of applying the Brascan/SWEI corporate strategy to our community.

     What is the Brascan/SWEI corporate strategy? Some guidance is provided by an article which appeared in IPPSO FACTO in August of 2002. Based on an interview with the president of Brascan/SWEI, that article stated that Brascan/SWEI's strategy “is to pursue large-scale development…the contemplated projects will use tall towers and large machines, 1.5 MW or greater, to take advantage of the better wind speeds higher up”. In the same article, the president of Brascan/SWEI was quoted as saying, in reference to federal government incentives for wind power generators, “[a]t a minimum, the [federal government] program funding needs to be doubled. As well, the rules governing annual funding allocations, provincial quotas and declining incentive payments need to be rationalized to encourage timely large-scale development of the lowest cost sites”.

     The Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition certainly understands the Brascan/SWEI corporate strategy. That strategy makes good sense from a profit maximization perspective. This is particularly the case when federal and provincial government grants, tax breaks and other incentives available to corporate wind power developers are taken into account.

     The Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition also recognizes the business and profit maximization rationale for the installation of one of North America 's largest-wind power generation facilities within our community. We have a good wind resource, we have a good road network (which facilitates tower installations), and we have an available 115 kV transmission line by way of which the generated power can be exported from the local community and transmitted by Ontario's high voltage transmission system to where it is ultimately used. Those three components ( i.e. , wind, roads and export transmission capabilities) are the key building blocks which a wind power developer seeks when selecting a site for possible wind power development.

     All of that being said, however, the Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition simply doesn't accept that the presence of those three building blocks means that a project of the nature and scope proposed by Brascan/SWEI should proceed within our community. Yes, Ontario needs new power supplies. Yes, once and if wind power is truly cost competitive, it should be looked at as a viable source of supply. Yes, wind power presents emissions-reduction-related benefits for Ontarians. However, those facts don't mean that a particular corporate strategy of large-scale, commercial development at the lowest-cost sites will necessarily be compatible with the character of a local community, the values of its residents, and the ecosystems and environmental sensitivities present within the community.

     Before applying the Brascan/SWEI corporate strategy to our community, therefore, it's important to ask an important question: Is our community the right area for a large-scale commercial wind power generation facility?

     We believe that the answer is no. This does not mean that no wind power development should be permitted in our community. However, the reasons for not supporting a large-scale commercial wind power generation facility in our community are numerous, including:

•  Our area's unique scenic resources, resources which are intended to be protected by Ontario law through the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

•  Widespread public and private use (through hiking, mountain-biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, etc.) of much of the land within (or in immediate proximity to) the area proposed by Brascan Power Wind for large-scale commercial wind power development.

•  The “signature” scenery of Blue Mountain – which serves as the logo for The Town of the Blue Mountains .

•  A unique confluence of the Niagara Escarpment with two significant valley systems ( i.e. , the Pretty River Valley and the Beaver Valley ).

•  Significant wetland and headwaters areas, and a unique watershed, with many provincially-identified ANSIs ( i.e. , areas of natural and scientific interest) and deer-wintering areas.

•  The area's relatively well-preserved natural state (particularly along the Escarpment, in the Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, Kolapore Uplands, Grey County Forest areas, etc.) as a result of decades of Ontario Government, Conservation Authority and Grey County-level environmental land use planning and land acquisition programmes.

•  The presence of some of the Bruce Trail 's most popular sections and some of its most prominent and well-known topographic and geological features.

     The Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition does expect that an appropriate balance can be struck between responsible wind energy development within our community and the special sensitivities and unique resources of our community. In our view, however, the large-scale commercial development strategy which Brascan Power Wind is pursuing does not represent the type of balanced approach which is necessary in order to ensure adequate protection for the best interests of our community, its residents, and its local environment.

Ontario's Developable Wind Resources

     Ontario appears to be blessed with strong wind power resources. So long as those wind power resources, or a good portion of them, can be developed in a cost-effective and competitive fashion, there appears to be potential for wind power to make at least some contribution to Ontario 's power generation requirements.

     Indeed, the business development manager for Brascan/SWEI has written in The Electricity Forum that “Ontario 's potential developable wind resource exceeds 35,000 Megawatts”. That 35,000 MW figure would appear to take into account both on-land and offshore wind generation potential, since the president of Brascan/SWEI has stated to the Ontario Legislative Assembly's Select Committee on Alternative Fuels that Ontario has “7,500 megawatts of potential” and that “[t]he offshore resource is much larger”. A somewhat lower figure appears in the brochure which Brascan/SWEI has distributed to the public, which states that “[p]rovincially, Ontario has the potential for more than 6,000 MW of wind energy production”.

     Given that there would appear to be such significant wind resources in Ontario, and given that the Ontario wind power generation industry is in its infancy (Ontario currently has only 14 MW of installed wind power capacity), the Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition believes that an appropriate degree of caution needs to be exercised in the face of a profit-maximizing developer's proposal to install what would be one of North America's largest wind power generation facilities on top of one of Ontario's most treasured landscapes ( i.e. , the Niagara Escarpment) and in the midst of not only a relatively undeveloped area which supports a diverse and sensitive ecosystem but also in the midst of a cherished and idyllic rural residential community which we call home.

     This is not to say that the Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition believes that the wind resource on top of Blue Mountain and in surrounding areas should not be developed at all. As is clear from other pages on this website, we are enthusiastic supporters of the appropriately-sited installation of “small wind” systems by individual landowners and community-based cooperatives and other ventures. However, we seriously question the wisdom behind a project of the size and scope proposed by Brascan/SWEI for our community when it would appear that Ontario likely has many other sites which are suitable for large-scale wind power development and which do not involve the risk of adverse impact on a community, its residents and its local environment which is presented by the proposed “Blue Highlands” project.

 

Copyright, The Blue Highlands Citizens Coalition, 2004, 2005.  All rights reserved.