French turbine made in Quebec -- An economic driver

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A consortium of Quebec companies plans to install three 750 kW Jeumont J48 wind turbines from France near the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, a project that it hopes will pave the way for the manufacture of the machines in the Canadian province.

"We're in the process of working on adapting the technology for North American standards and cold climates," says Richard Legault, president of Montreal-based Helimax Energy, the firm heading the project. "The deal is that it would be manufactured and assembled under licence in Quebec, more specifically, as much as possible in the Gaspé area."

Two of the consortium's partners are based in the region. Fabrication Delta, which makes steel products, will act as the project's general contractor, while Groupe Ohméga, an electrical contractor and supplier of wind monitoring equipment, will handle the electrical work and interconnection. The group's fourth partner is Lefebvre & Fréres, a Montreal-based machine shop.

The group hopes to begin installing the turbines at a site near the community of Rivière-au-Renard in the fall. The project will not only test Jeumont's direct drive, variable speed technology in the region's "robust" climate, says Legault, but also give the partners a better sense of the market potential of a Quebec-built machine. "The target is to start up the three units next spring, so even before that we'll know at least if the technology, on a cost basis, is to be competitive," he says. "If we start up and the power curve looks the way it should, then we'll feel pretty comfortable, pretty fast about moving on to work on other projects."

The group is still working on finalising the cost of the demonstration wind farm, but expects the price tag to be in the neighbourhood of C$5.5 million. "It's going to be an expensive project for obvious reasons," says Legault. "There really is quite a lot of challenge here, because we have to work in a tough climate and have to go through the learning curve of manufacturing components and assembling the machines here."

Legault says both the Quebec and federal governments have shown a lot of interest in the project, which he hopes will translate into financial support. The Gaspé Peninsula is one of the most economically depressed regions in Quebec, and the provincial government has touted wind energy as a way to drive economic development and diversification there.

The consortium is currently negotiating a power purchase agreement with Hydro-Quebec, as well as working out interconnection issues. The utility, says Legault, is "definitely open and interested."

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