Squamish is under consideration for a wind turbine manufacturing facility that could employ more than 400 people, The Chief has learned.
But the province's energy policy prevents the plans from moving ahead quickly and a provincial cabinet minister is defending his decision not to play favourites with the wind energy sector.
The interest in Squamish comes from a company called Vestas. The company, which is based in Demark but has offices around the world, including one in Portland, Ore., builds turbines for the wind energy sector.
The president of the company's American division, Thomas Carbone, wrote to Energy and Mines Minister Richard Neufeld at the end of May following a meeting in Victoria where the pair discussed wind energy issues. Carbone's letter was copied to the Transportation Minister, the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development and Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland.
Carbone stated in his letter that his company is evaluating a number of possible manufacturing locations in North America.
Sutherland confirmed that Vestas is interested in Squamish.
In his letter, Carbone indicated that before his company can build a manufacturing facility in B.C. it wants to have power purchase agreements in place with local wind energy developers.
"The Government of British Columbia through BC Hydro or other bankable entities enables power purchase agreements with local energy developers totaling 1,000-2,000 MW to be constructed over the next four to five years," Carbone wrote. "Vestas Americas subsequently enters into frame agreements with local wind energy developers for a minimum of 1,000 MW of wind turbine equipment to be delivered over the same four- to five-year period. This is a modest requirement, and could represent a number between 333 to 555 modern turbines over that period."
He went on in the letter to ask for streamlining and acceleration of the permit process for wind farms and he also encouraged Neufeld to provide timely approvals for projects that have gone through the environmental assessment process.
Neufeld wrote back in July and told Carbone that the province has an energy policy and that policy does not advocate for specific types of energy resources.
"The Government of British Columbia nderstands that policy decisions made to specifically benefit consumers may not be to the immediate advantage of energy developers," Neufeld wrote in his reply to Carbone.
In an interview with The Chief, Neufeld said that the provincial government asked BC Hydro to get a minimum of 50 per cent of its new power from clean sources. He pointed out that 90 per cent of Alberta's energy is produced from fossil fuel.
"I'm not interested in telling BC Hydro what to do," Neufeld said.
The province's power company is expected to put out another call for proposals this spring for power from green energy sources and Neufeld said Vestas is welcome to be part of that process.
According to Paul Wieringa, the Energy and Mines Ministry director of electric policy, Vestas is looking for a huge commitment from the province.
"They wanted Hydro to buy between 1,000 and 2,000 megawatts of power," Wieringa said. "Hydro has a total of 11,000 megawatts currently. The last call for proposals totalled 200 megawatts spread over 18 projects."
By comparison, Hydro's Cheakamus generating station at Daisy Lake generates 140 megawatts.
Wieringa added that his ministry encouraged Vestas to consider building its manufacturing plant in Squamish.
Sutherland received copies of both letters and he said this week that to the best of his knowledge Vestas is still interested in Squamish.
"We've been having ongoing talks with Vestas and Sea Breeze, who are partners, for a facility in Squamish," Sutherland said.
Sea Breeze is currently helping to make Squamish a world leader in wind energy. The first phase of Squamish's wind initiative was to determine the public's level of acceptance for wind projects. Economic Development Officer Lee Malleau reports that there is broad support amongst locals.
The District of Squamish is now researching where the best winds can be found by making application to put up test towers on Goat Ridge, Sechelt Ridge and Brohm Ridge.
"A call for alternative power of the size that Vestas would need could go out in January or some time in the new year," Sutherland said. "It would be a large investment in any facility that would manufacture these towers. For them to go forward they would have to have a power purchase agreement in hand. When Hydro issues a call I expect that Vestas would submit a proposal."
Squamish is an ideal location for a manufacturing facility, as the wind power industry prefers to have plants located close to seaports, close to rail lines and close to potential project sites.
While the surety Vestas says it needs before investing in B.C. is high, the mayor is confident that Squamish is still in the running for a wind turbine manufacturing facility.
"There's still a lot work to do and hurdles to cross but at least everyone is still talking," Sutherland said.
Carbone did not respond to The Chief's request for an interview.