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Who has seen the wind?

Whistler-Blackcomb approves study to determine feasibility of wind farm

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Whistler-Blackcomb has approved a study to test the power generation potential of Whistler’s wind.

They have chosen a spot on the west side of Whistler Mountain, in a second growth plateau opposite the landfill, for a potential wind farm.

"If we are going to achieve sustainability this would be a major step," said Arthur DeJong, Whistler-Blackcomb’s mountain planning and environmental resource manager.

If the technical aspects prove out, the wind farm could have five to eight tall towers. This could meet 20 per cent of Whistler’s overall electrical needs in renewable clean energy.

A Vancouver based company called Whistling Wind will be installing a meteorological tower on the mountain by the spring. That ‘met tower’ will mimic a wind tower and collect wind data for one year.

If the wind supply were adequate, the next step would be to place one wind tower on the site for another year to determine if it’s feasible to have a wind farm.

When asked if he thinks there is enough wind in Whistler to make the wind farm work, DeJong said there is plenty of wind in the higher elevations. But, sensitive to the importance of the resort’s views, he said there was a reluctance to build a wind farm on the peaks.

"What we’re trying to do… is find a balance between still getting enough wind to make the project viable but not placed in key resort visual corridors where we feel that we will go against the aesthetic objectives of the resort," said DeJong.

"Our senior leadership team did struggle with the optics of it versus the value of it."

In the end he said the team recognized that a wind farm symbolizes environmental and social leadership and it could potentially send a very positive message to resort guests.

A typical wind tower is about 75 feet (or 22 metres) high with large blades or arms stretching 40 feet (or 12 metres) across.

The towers are usually spaced 500 metres apart.

But DeJong said they might be looking at smaller towers, which are more stable, to better suit Whistler’s mountainous terrain.

Most of the wind farm projects in Canada, he explained, are on flat lands. Mountaintop wind tends to be more turbulent, which is harder on wind towers.

DeJong said they are now looking for feedback from the community.

"This is not something we’re rushing into," he said. "Clearly there will be very in depth public consultation on it.

"The only way to make these projects doable is through several partners…. Certainly the community is a partner, especially with the wind farm, being that it does have some visual presence, and we have to collectively want it in order to do it."

Whistler-Blackcomb does not have any direct economic interest in the project but the company is providing time and information to the consultants.

DeJong cautioned that this is early days and the project is still in its conceptual stage as the information begins to be gathered and assessed.

"We might need to place several ‘met towers’ before we figure out where the wind is and where it’s not," said DeJong.

Wind energy is the fastest growing form of electricity production in Canada with incentives from the federal government encouraging additional growth in the sector in the coming years.

In the next 15 years the government will invest at least $920 million in promoting wind power, increasing its production target to 4,000 megawatts by 2010 – that’s enough electricity for more than 250,000 Canadian homes.

Investors are also looking at creating a new wind power company in Squamish.

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