"A major part of our strategy is to rely on an international supply chain of manufacturing, assembly and support which is able to scale itself based on volume of orders and location of projects," says David Roberts, chief executive officer of Parsons Peebles, a UK industrial group that acquired Nordic Windpower, then a Swedish turbine manufacturer, last year. As part of that strategy, the company is bringing Eskasoni technicians to Sweden and the UK for training in the installation, servicing and assembly of its turbines. "From that point on, we will expand our joint venture as far as it can possibly be taken," says Roberts.
The training will dovetail with delivery of three Nordic Windpower 1 MW machines for installation on the Eskasoni reserve, located on Cape Breton Island at the northern tip of Nova Scotia. "We are orchestrating that with the assembly so that they can actually be interning on the machines that are being delivered here," says Robert Leth of newly created Nordic Windpower Canada (NWC). The new firm is owned and operated by three companies: Parsons Peebles, small turbine maker Atlantic Orient Canada Inc (AOCI) of Nova Scotia, and local renewable energy consultancy Breton Windworks.
Site work for the three 1 MW turbines is underway, says Leth, with the relatively unusual two-bladed machines expected to be up and operating in the spring. An agreement to jointly develop the project was signed in April between Eskasoni Power & Energy (EP&E) and Nova Scotia Power. EP&E has a two-thirds share in the joint venture and will pay for two of the turbines. Nova Scotia Power will buy the third turbine and the output of the entire project. "Once the utility has its machine written off, then the asset is going to be transferred to Eskasoni," says Leth.
EP&E is also working on financing for another five 1 MW units. "The ambition is to generate as much electricity as the community consumes so it can lay claim to being 100% self-generated and 100% green," says Leth.
The Eskasoni's ambitions do not stop there. Working with NWC, the first nation band is planning to offer complete development of wind projects across the country. "Obviously the market that is most accessible to them is other First Nations communities, so we're going to build upon that. But it is not limited to those communities, because as Nordic Windpower Canada we are also going to be out there selling across the board," says Leth.
Smaller-scale, community-based wind projects are NWC's target market, he adds. "We're not chasing the 500 MW projects. We expect to do a good, steady business in the one to twenty-five megawatt range. That's our backyard." Roberts agrees. "We're quite comfortable to let the big boys take the big contracts. We're very comfortable being a very flexible, project-led, community-led company in the Canadian marketplace."
In the United States
Nordic Windpower is also working on gaining a foothold in the US, where interest in its technology has been growing since the company exhibited at last April's Global Windpower conference in Chicago, says Barry Stephens, sales director with Parsons Peebles. "We have an organisation that has got its ear to the ground in America, and things are gelling."
Things are also gelling for the Eskasoni, whose C$14 million debt and 70% unemployment rate made it a "worst-case scenario in the middle of a desperate economy" when it began to explore renewable energy development more than two years ago, says Leth. About one-quarter of the C$10 million the band was spending on social services for the community of 3500 went to buy electricity. As it looked at ways to cut that cost, says Leth, developing its wind resource emerged as "the logical choice."
Today, in addition to its utility-scale plans, the band is also looking at the smaller end of the turbine size range. In June, EP&E installed and commissioned an AOCI 50 kW turbine at the Band Council headquarters and has an agreement with AOCI to develop other projects using the technology.
For Chief Blair Francis, the string of partnerships that has grown out of the Eskasoni's interest in wind power represents "giant steps forward" in building a sustainable economy in his community. "We intend for Eskasoni to become the hub of community-generated power projects, servicing communities and corporate clients from coast to coast," he says.