Manitoba wind rush kicks off -- Responses total 10,000 MW

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Competition is heating up in the Canadian province of Manitoba as the provincial government and its publicly owned utility Manitoba Hydro sort through a whopping 10,000 MW worth of responses to its recent request for expressions of interest (EOI) for new wind power development.

The province is seeking to add 1000 MW of wind to its 5500 MW electricity system over the next decade and in November issued an EOI to get information on the timing and location of potential projects, capabilities of proponents and possible manufacturing opportunities. It received 36 submissions identifying 75 proposed project sites, plus 11 projects with unspecified locations. A range of project sizes was proposed, the government says, totalling approximately 10,000 MW. Some are at advanced stages of planning, while "others are broad expressions of interest indicating only a desire to develop wind."

The energy ministry's Jim Crone says the province will use the information to help design the next step in the acquisition process. "We are not judging or evaluating projects that have come in. It is really kind of an information exchange between interested parties and the government and Hydro."

Just prior to the EOI's February 24 deadline, Canadian oil pipeline giant Enbridge Inc announced it has formed a 50-50 joint venture with Winnipeg's Sequoia Energy, one of the early movers in the Manitoba market, to develop wind power in the prairie province. Sequoia CEO Bob Spensley expects the partnership to be a formidable contender.

"Sequoia is energetic, nimble and local," he says. "Enbridge has the financial strength and commitment to support our projects over the long term." Sequoia was one of the developers of the province's only wind power project so far, the just completed 99 MW St Leon project of Vestas turbines now owned by AirSource Power Fund.

Mutliple projects

The partners, says Spensley, have a series of projects at the advanced permitting stage. Jointly the companies have more than 250 land agreements with Manitoba landowners covering more than 140,000 acres of land in several geographically dispersed rural municipalities. They also have 19 meteorological towers measuring wind across the province. Enbridge's Chuck Szmurlo says working with Sequoia "will increase our probability of success in developing multiple wind power projects across the province."

He will face competition. Just two weeks later, Westman Wind Power Co announced its plans for Manitoba and its own list of credentials. The Winnipeg company, established in 2004, has formed a joint venture with Toronto's Gale Force Energy and a leading US developer, Padoma Wind Power, to develop eight wind projects with an initial capacity of 700 MW and a maximum of more than 1400 MW. The company is arranging financing through CFI Group, whose energy and infrastructure fund boasts major investors like the Manitoba Teachers' Retirement Allowances Fund and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

Westman has land lease agreements covering more than more than 50,000 acres of private land across Manitoba and has filed applications to use another 20,000 acres of publicly owned land.

"The interest in our company and our projects has been exceptional," says David Martin, who leads the site acquisition. "I have talked to hundreds of land owners over the past year and can tell you that Manitobans are very enthusiastic about the potential of wind power for our province. Landowners are excited to get construction under way and to start earning new sustainable income."

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