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Wind power central to BC energy strategy; critics speak out

Wind power could be the central plank of a new provincial plan to make B.C. energy self-sufficient by 2016. But critics cited environmental and land-use concerns during a forum at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention today.

Paul Choudhury, a manager with the BC Transmission Corporation, told around two dozen forum participants that the province's power needs will likely rise by as much as 1.7 per cent each year over the coming decades.

The forecast is due in part to population growth in the Lower Mainland and potential oil and gas development in the northeast BC, he said.

As a result, the province is urging BC Hydro to become less dependent on energy suppliers from the U.S. and Alberta.

"BC Hydro has been a net importer of energy for the last five to six years," said Choudhury. "The government wants to take us back the point where we'll be self-sufficient."

To get there, BCTC and BC Hydro are eyeing wind-power expansion in the Peace River District and northern Vancouver Island.

Both sites have pros and cons.

"Wind profiles in the Peace region are fantastic," said Choudhury, adding that two wind plants should be generating power there in the next year. "They're among the best in the world." But he conceded that any new energy would have travel nearly 1,000 kilometres to major consumption centres around Vancouver and Victoria.

Vancouver Island is much closer to the demand, but lacks important infrastructure such as high voltage transmission lines, which could result in higher costs, said Choudhury.

Tim Caton, a Director in the Peace River Regional District said he was concerned future development in his area could destroy natural habitats and harm bird and caribou populations.

"Every wind farm requires a road to it, every wind farm requires a power line," he said. "That will have a major impact."

Peter Ronald, a coordinator with the BC Sustainable Energy Association said there are no provincial plans to hold multi-party land-use meetings to discuss how development will affect industries such as tourism and farming.

"We need a more fulsome conversation that brings everyone to the table," he said.

Choudhury said the public will have a chance to express their concerns at an open inquiry on B.C.'s energy future to be held next spring.

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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