Canadian firm builds German turbines -- Ontario start with 50 MW

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A Canadian consortium is joining forces with Germany's REpower Systems to manufacture REpower's 750 kW and 1.5 MW wind turbines in the north east Ontario city of Sudbury. REpower Wind Corp, a Canadian controlled company that has the German turbine maker as a minority shareholder, is currently lining up component suppliers, a process president Richard Walker expects will take a year.

"For the towers and foundations, we believe the expertise is there now," he says. "But I suspect there is going to be at least 12 months of sourcing parts suppliers before we can start to manufacture and assemble turbines here." Until then, says Walker, REpower Wind will import nacelles and blades from Germany.

The company expects one of its first orders to come from the City of Sudbury itself, which plans to construct a 50 MW, C$86 million wind plant with joint venture partner Northland Power. The city chose Northland, an independent power producer based in Ontario and newcomer to Canada's wind energy industry, from 18 companies who answered a request for proposals it issued in the spring.

Paul Finley, project manager in the city's economic development department, says the project is expected to be operating by spring 2004. In the coming months, he says, the partners plan to conduct a feasibility study and map the region's wind resource to find the most viable sites for development. "At the same time, we'll be trying to nail down a power purchase agreement."

Reducing imports

Sudbury's interest in wind is part of its overall environmental strategy. The city has been recognised by the United Nations for its efforts in rehabilitating a landscape scarred by the region's mining history. It is now turning its attention to energy. The community buys about C$400 million of energy resources a year, all of it from outside the region. The city's goal is to reduce its reliance on external sources by 50% over the next eight to ten years by developing local renewable energy projects.

"The wind initiative is one of the ways we can achieve that," says Finley. "We're looking at initially 50 MW, but by the time it is fully developed over the next few years, we're hoping it will be about 150 MW."

Although REpower Systems and its Canadian partners had been discussing the possibility of a Sudbury manufacturing plant for nearly two years, it was the prospect of supplying technology for the city's project that "cemented the deal," says Walker. "It was an opportunity for REpower to get its first project in North America. And being close -- and being a good sized development -- it would be a good opportunity to establish some base economies of scale to set up manufacturing facilities and allow us to train our personnel," he adds. Once it is in full production, the plant is expected to create 90 full-time direct and indirect jobs.

Skilled workforce

The city's skilled workforce and industrial base, which has grown out of its mining roots, also help make Sudbury an attractive location for manufacturing. "We have a very, very significant structural steel industry here. We also have other companies in control and electronic components," says Finley. "Sure, they would have to do some tooling up for this, but they have the expertise in the essential components to make it happen."

REpower Wind has been taking its product to Canada's wind developers and although it has yet to sign a turbine supply contract, says Walker, a lot of interest has been shown in a Canadian-made machine. It is also eyeing the US market, where Walker believes the exchange rate on the lower Canadian dollar will give it a competitive advantage.

Walker says REpower is currently reviewing GE Wind's US patent on variable speed technology, and will make changes to its 1.5 MW turbine, which is a variable speed machine, if required. "We do have access to the limited slip technology that others are using in the North American marketplace," he says.

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