The Future is in the wind: Energy experts keen to capitalize on stiff prairie breezes

(Winnipeg Free Press Feb.12/06)


THE strong winds that make Portage and Main so famous are ready to fill the sails of the Manitoba economy.

Those same winds found blowing outside the Perimeter Highway --some of the strongest and steadiest winds in all of Canada --are poised to offer real solutions to everything from helping farmers stay on the land to reducing our addiction to fossil fuels.

The Manitoba government knows that. In November it asked experts in wind energy to propose how they would generate 1,000 megawatts of wind power over the next six years in an effort to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly economy.

In two weeks, the government will receive boxes of documents from firms, including Sequoia Energy of Manitoba, outlining how wind turbines erected around the province could enrich our economy, our environment and our communities.

One of the clear messages in those proposals is that the communities are already engaged. In Birtle, a 75-year-old farmer walked through a snowstorm to attend a public meeting on a proposed wind farm in his area. That day he signed a lease agreement along with dozens of his neighbours. Like him, they are looking to diversify. They say that fees generated from leasing their land to allow wind turbines to stand among their grains and grasses can mean the difference between staying on the farm or not.

The provinces first wind farm in St.Leon injected $1 million a year in land payments and municipal and education taxes. Some of the corporate profits are dedicated to a special fund that, among other things, is helping to build a home in St.Leon for senior citizens.

In early January, a group of students from Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg took a day trip to St.Leon. The lesson in creating a video on the environment and energy was also a lesson in homegrown pride. The teacher said when they came over the hill to catch their first glimpse of the turbines, "all of the students in my car gasped in delight! It was as if they were strolling in Paris or on a boat in Sydney Harbour and caught a glimpse of a famous architectural wonder."

You wouldn't have to look much further than those stories to know that the future of wind power in Manitoba is picking up speed. We are not any different than the 96 per cent of Canadians polled last February who said they prefer the deployment of wind energy over conventional sources of electricity like coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas.

But the Manitoba government should see in the proposals they will soon receive how our neighbours are quickly moving to develop wind energy. To the east, Ontario and Quebec are developing more than 2,700 and 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy (the vast majority of it in wind power) respectively in the next four to seven years.

As well, our friends in North Dakota have spent the last few years developing wind farms, energized no doubt by U.S. President George W. Bush's latest state of the union address that urged Americans to get off their addiction to oil and reduce their reliance on the Mideast.

Why Manitobans and Manitoba Hydro in particular should care about the American push for wind energy is because it creates competition for the space on transmission lines. Those north-south lines that allow Manitoba Hydro to sell power to the U.S. hold a limited number of megawatts. And as Americans demand and create their own "green power," we can expect to see greater competition for the limited capacity on those lines.

IMAGINE if Manitoba could fill the increasing political and consumer demand our customers east and south have for renewable and green energies by erecting more wind farms while at the same time creating millions of dollars in spin-off jobs in this province.

Imagine if we could be a leader in wind energy to the point where we could attract international manufacturers of wind turbines to Manitoba, creating well-paying and sustainable jobs. Imagine if we could catch up to countries like Denmark and Germany that already meet 18 per cent and six per cent of their electrical needs respectively through wind energy. (Canada is at less than one per cent today, but could be at three per cent in the next eight years). It's all possible. As fossil fuel prices go up and wind technology gets more sophisticated, it is getting cheaper and smarter to produce wind energy all
the time.

We also know this can all be done by the private sector in Manitoba and can be led by made-in-Manitoba companies with Canadian and internationally experienced partners.

As industry leaders, we know the promise of wind energy. We know it is as strong environmentally and economically as the famous winds at Portage
and Main.

Ron Diduch, CEO, and Bob Spensley, president of Sequoia Energy of Manitoba, were part of the team to develop the first wind farm in Manitoba
in St.Leon.