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Developers confident in wind power despite tough economic times

Though British Columbia’s first wind energy project has found itself in financial trouble, developers appear confident in the sector.

BC Hydro received 19 proposals for wind energy projects in its 2008 call for clean power, which closed this week. The majority of the large project proposals -- over 50 MW -- were for wind energy, said BC Hydro spokesperson Dag Sharman.

There were 68 submissions in total, more than half of which were for hydroelectricity projects.

Two companies made public this week their plans to develop wind power in the province. Epcor, an Edmonton city-owned utility, announced a bid to build a 142 MW facility just outside Tumbler Ridge in the Peace River region.

Finavera Renewables Inc. announced bids to develop four wind projects, also in the Peace, totaling 295 megawatts.

If Finavera's bids are accepted by BC Hydro, GE Energy Financial Services would finance the combined $800 million capital cost of the projects.

"Up until now, BC Hydro has been focused on hydro-based generation sources and now they're looking to diversify that portfolio," said David Huggill, western policy manager with the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

"Wind projects are definitely up there."

While the province hasn't set specific targets for acquiring wind energy, Sharman said it is encouraging to see this number of wind project proposals.

"[Wind] is beginning to get more competitive in price," he said.

But there are still challenges, especially during these financial times.

BC Hydro accepted three wind project proposals in its 2006 call for clean power, one of which was the Dokie wind project near Chetwynd.

Last week, the project's proponent, EarthFirst Canada Inc., announced it obtained temporary court protection from creditors seeking $131 million in debt.

In July 2008, just two months after beginning construction, the company announced capital project costs had increased from $325 million to $360 million.

Another project, the Mount Hays Wind Farm near Prince Rupert, experienced delays last year after a dispute with the turbine supplier.

"Construction costs are items or issues we need to keep on top of," said Myke Clark, Finavera's senior vice president of business development.

"It is a difficult time for sure, but we believe that we’ve got bids together that will address any concerns."

Clark said although there is difficulty getting capital and credit across the board right now, there is confidence in renewables.

"There is definitely competition in BC," he said. "What projects will be awarded and how many, is anyone's guess. We don't need to be first. There is a growing demand and a significant demand for electricity."

Colleen Kimmett is a regular contributor to the Hook

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