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'We will see a wind farm'
Alternative energy power could help city's energy woes, says researcher

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Friday, January 22, 2016

A wind expert says he may have come across a place near Yellowknife that is gusty enough to support a wind farm.

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A researcher for wind power in the Yellowknife area says a wind farm with similar wind turbines to this one at Diavik Diamond Mine could provide power for Yellowknife and alleviate much of the city's energy woes. - photo courtesy of Diavik

Jean-Paul Pinard, a wind monitoring consultant based out of Whitehorse, helms a group studying the feasibility of the alternative energy through the Aurora Research Institute over the past year, on behalf of the GNWT. The group's job has been to identify if wind can be found anywhere in the Yellowknife area that's suitable enough to help with the city's energy challenges.

"I don't think I'm too off the mark in saying that in two to five years we will see a wind farm in the Yellowknife area," said Pinard.

Within the last year, Pinard said a ridge with a series of hills has been located near the Snare Lake hydro dam - 140 km northwest of Yellowknife - where the elevation is high enough for turbines to access a cold wind layer strong enough to make a case for a wind farm.

On Dec. 10, Pinard and his team placed sophisticated wind analysis instruments on a Northwestel pole conveniently located in the area. Data collected of wind speeds reveals positive measurements for a potential wind farm so far, he said.

"We are seeing winds at excess of well beyond six metres per second and in the last month (it has) been over seven," he said, noting that six metres per second is the usual minimum needed for strong enough wind. While there is still more to do to get a clear picture, he said he is confident the winter winds could provide enough power to help with electricity or home heating costs.

Much of the effort has stemmed from recent energy shortages due to the summer of 2014 drought, which left water levels low and resulted in a costly over-dependence on diesel, Pinard said. The GNWT has spent about $50 million over the last two years to avoid consumers receiving high power bills.

"Because of the droughts (in the summer of 2014) there was a sense of desperation to get another form of renewable - especially wind," Pinard said.

He has conducted wind monitoring over the past decade in the NWT but had not been able to find many areas where wind was strong enough for turbines to be reliable. "Out of the desperation, we felt that there must be a site somewhere around Yellowknife. I got together some data elevation models and maps and put them together to explore."

He said he is optimistic that many wind turbines - each of which provide between two to three megawatts - could be located in the area.

"There (is) room for lots of wind turbines," he said.

Pinard said he expected that if there were wind turbines placed in the area, they would likely be similar to the ENERCON products located at Diavik, which have heated blades to prevent them from freezing.

He added the GNWT would have to make a determination as to what its megawatt goal would be. It couldn't be determined by press time how many megawatts the city would require.

Diavik, for example, has an output of 9.2 megawatts, so Pinard said a reasonable goal for Yellowknife may be 10 megawatts to get started.

As a comparison, the Jackfish diesel plant has a capacity of 32.8 megawatts. Bluefish hydro dam, which the city depends on for a portion of its power, can generate up to 7.5 megawatts. The Snare Hydro System, which the city also depends on, can produce about 30 megawatts.

Other decisions include if the government wants to go full out to spend money on a large-scale project, since there would be significant investments required to build a new access road to the site. A project may also hinge on the amount of support that would be required from the federal government, Pinard said.

Yellowknifer reached out to the GNWT Department of Public Works and Services for comment but nobody was available to speak to cost estimates and or the possibilities of having a wind farm near the city by press time.

Diavik wind farm at a glance

  • Established in 2012
  • Project Cost: $31-million
  • Number of wind turbines: Four
  • Megawatt power each turbine: 2.3-megawatt capacity
  • Total megawatt power: Nine
  • Source: Canadian Wind Energy Association; "Diavik Wind Farm: Wind energy helps reduce carbon footprint"; NNSL files

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