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Province green lights Vancouver Island wind farm

Wind turbines stands at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon in Spanish Fork, Utah. U.S., on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011.

George Frey/Bloomberg

A $280-million wind farm on the northern tip of Vancouver Island has been issued an environmental assessment certificate, subject to 104 legally binding conditions.

The Nahwitti Windfarm Project, with 47 wind turbine generators, will be built on 10,000 hectares of mostly Crown land covered with shallow bogs, stunted trees and small rock outcrops, about 45 kilometres west of Port Hardy.

The wind towers are expected to produce up to 100 megawatts of wind energy, enough to feed power to 30,000 homes. Located in a sparsely populated region, the project entails around 20 kilometres of new transmission lines to connect to the province's power grid. B.C. currently has two wind farms.

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Communities in the region view the project as a significant investment in the area and an opportunity for jobs at a time when employment in forestry and fishing has fallen off, Mark Grant, a spokesman for Rupert Peace Power Corp, said Friday in an interview. The Nahwitti Windfarm is a project of Nomis Power Corp., a subsidiary of the privately held company Rupert Peace Power Corp.

"This project cannot come fast enough for them," he said. "That's the message we have been getting back."

However, Quatsino Band Council and the Tlatlasikwala First Nation have expressed numerous concerns.

The Quatsino Band Council, in correspondence last April, raised questions about the possibility of increased poaching of elk, construction of roads in wetlands, invasive plant control and re-vegetation.

The project was an infringement of aboriginal rights, the correspondence from the band's fisheries manager David Schmidt stated. The band's comments about various aspects of the project "do not express approval of the project or any other project, nor do these comments constitute consultation or accommodation in relation to this or any other project," he said.

The Tlatlasikwala First Nation, also in correspondence in April, emphasized the band had never ceded aboriginal title to the traditional territory and any activities are an infringement of its rights.

The first nation's submission to the environment assessment office "in no way signifies approval of the project," said Ken Barth, a band representative, before listing more than 20 concerns about the wind farm. Among the issues raised by Mr. Barth are the lack of an economic benefit agreement and the "sensory disturbance" caused by the wind generators for Roosevelt elk, sandhill cranes and black bears.

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Tlatlasikwala and Quatsino leaders did not respond on Friday to phone messages requesting an interview. Correspondence from the two first nations was available on the website of the environmental assessment office. The Kwakiutl First Nation is also affected by the project.

Mr. Grant said the company had been consulting with the first nations. "We like to feel we have a good working relationship with all of them," he said.

However, he declined to comment on whether the company had an agreement on economic benefits. "I cannot get into what the particulars are, but there are definitely benefits there for those communities," he said.

The Environment Ministry, in a news release, said the first nations participated in the assessment process. "The province is satisfied that the Crown's duties to consult and accommodate First Nations interests have been discharged," the ministry news release said.

Mr. Grant said the next steps would be to secure a long-term contract with BC Hydro and line up construction contracts. "It could be a year or two until the wind farm is generating power," he said.

The certificate was granted by Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy Minister Rich Coleman after considering a review of the project by B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, a government news release said.

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The assessment office concluded the project was not expected to result in any significant adverse effects, based on mitigation measures and conditions imposed by the certificate. The certificate includes design features and mitigation measures in addition to the 104 conditions.

The requirements include an advisory committee to review bird and bat monitoring information, compensation for any destruction of fish habitat and a plan for public access during construction and operations.

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