Weather Dancer opens the door -- Larger projects to follow

The first turbine ever owned by the Peigan Indian Utility Corporation (PIUC) is up and running in Canada, a moment that was more than three years in the making. PIUC and its joint venture partner, Edmonton's Epcor Power Development Corp, celebrated the completion of Weather Dancer 1 in an October ceremony on the Peigan First Nation's traditional lands in the windy southwest corner of Alberta.

The NEG Micon 900 kW installation, which stands 72 metres tall, is expected to generate approximately 2960 MWh of energy a year. For the first ten years, 80% of its output will be offered to customers through Epcor's green power program and the remainder will be sold into Alberta's spot electricity market.

Peter Strikes with a Gun, Chief of the Peigan First Nation, says the project opens new opportunities for his people. "Our success with Weather Dancer 1 is allowing us to look ahead to a larger wind power project and a future where it may be possible for us to meet the energy needs of our own community." Strikes with a Gun says the Peigan's commitment to sustainable wind generation is closely tied to traditional elements of their culture. The name Weather Dancer carries great significance, referring to a ceremony on the last day of the Sundance which renews the Peigan relationship with the natural world.

William Big Bull, PIUC's wind project co-ordinator, has been working since 1998 to build wind generation on its reserve lands, home to 1800 of the nation's 3000 members. A planned joint venture project that included building a C$200 million, 101 MW wind farm and a tower manufacturing facility failed to come to fruition. Then last year PIUC agreed to supply Epcor with wind power from a single 750 kW turbine. But when it became clear the delivery deadline would not be met because of project delays, Epcor's power development team offered to work with PIUC.

"We've finally had our day, we're finally in the wind business," says Big Bull. "We've had so many false starts, I wasn't going to get my hopes up until that tower was up. We finally saw it standing, so now we're confident we can move ahead." Big Bull is preparing a business case for what he calls a "bigger, more viable" wind farm, and hopes to eventually have 100 MW installed.

PIUC and Epcor are 50-50 joint venture partners in the C$1.8 million Weather Dancer 1 project. Don Lowry, Epcor's CEO, also sees the project as the first step towards a "significantly larger" wind development for his company. "We believe there's a very bright outlook for wind power in Alberta."

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