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EDP Renewables (EDPR) reports that the 30 MW South Branch wind farm, located near Brinston, Ontario, has completed construction and is fully energized.

The wind farm, the company’s first in Canada, features 10 Siemens 3 MW wind turbines, each with a 113-meter rotor perched on a 99.5-meter tower. The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is purchasing the wind farm’s output via a feed-in tariff contract that was awarded in 2010.

“We began to look at Canada throughout the 2000s,” explains Ryan Brown, director of development at EDPR Canada. At the time, he says, the company was looking outside the U.S. market as a hedge against the lingering uncertainty of the production tax credit. Furthermore, EDPR was enticed by the Ontario government’s steady method of procurement. (For more on the Ontario market, see “Ontario Wind Market Braces For Slowdown”.)

Ontario represented a new market for EDPR, which had acquired South Branch’s pre-construction assets from ProWind Canada in 2012.

Doing business in the province required a brief period of adjustment, Brown admits.

For example, would-be wind developers had to comply with the province’s domestic-content requirements – stipulating that a certain percentage of goods and services emanate from within Ontario – and this narrowed down the list of available turbine suppliers. Brown says Siemens, which has a blade facility in Tillsonburg and a tower plant in Windsor, was a logical selection to supply the turbines.

“The big challenge was not only meeting the requirements, but also documenting them,” he explains, adding that the OPA requires a detailed description from developers before awarding contracts.

“Basically, [the documentation] outlines the steps for what you’ve communicated to them,” he says. “There’s a lot that must be tracked.”

(Ontario has since eliminated its domestic-content requirements following a 2013 World Trade Organization ruling that found the rules were exclusionary and, therefore, in violation of international trade law.)

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Learning curve

According to Brown, one of the first orders of business was bringing the wind farm through Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process, which was rolled out with the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.

The REA process, which is overseen by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), was intended to develop a new regulatory procedure adapted for renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, that would be more efficient and, therefore, enable projects to be permitted rapidly without involving multiple levels of jurisdiction. However, some wind developers have claimed that the process was anything but facile.

To obtain the REA – the major permit needed for the project – developers are required to meet certain standards related to environmental impact studies, as well as setback and noise requirements.

Because municipalities wield a considerable amount of influence in the process, getting local buy-in was critical to getting the South Branch project to the next step.

“We literally went door-to-door,” Brown explains, adding that the company went the extra mile to engage all stakeholders. For example, the project’s original layout called for the placement of up to 14 wind turbines. However, after considering concerns of a few residents, EDPR reduced the project’s footprint by four turbine locations.

“We responded and reacted,” notes Brown. “By removing the four turbine locations, we were able to eliminate the overhead collection line.”

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Brown says such grass-roots involvement allowed the wind farm to escape from some of the intense scrutiny that was being applied to other wind farms around the province.

“This was the first wind project larger than 10 MW that was not appealed,” Brown notes, adding that the MOE ultimately granted the permit needed for construction.

Permitting aside, the project’s construction phase was not without its challenges. For example, preliminary geologic testing at the site revealed that the location suffered from poor soils, which proved challenging for H.B. White Canada, the wind farm’s construction services provider. Chris Hanson, vice president of wind energy at Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives LLC, the parent company of H.B. White Canada, says soft geologic conditions impacted foundation stability.

He says that each of the South Branch turbine locations needed some sort of stabilization procedure. Four foundations were slated to be built on Leta clay, a layer of soft soil sitting above the bedrock. Because Leta clay becomes unstable when load is applied, there is no place to transfer the load. Therefore, in order to transfer the load to secure the foundation, Hanson explains the team undercut the Leta clay down to the bedrock. He also says grouted pier and aggregate ram pier methods were used to secure the foundations at the wind farm.

The project is also noteworthy because South Branch is the first Canadian wind farm being powered by the Siemens 3 MW wind turbines. Typically, a new turbine platform requires some learning on the part of the project team. However, Hanson notes that because H.B. White’s mechanical crew and Siemens’ commissioning team had just come off working at a project in western Ontario, the two parties were already familiar with each other. Therefore, the teams were able to quickly turn their focus to the nitty-gritty mechanical details, such as wiring in tower internals and point-to-point contacts.

For EDPR, completing the project represents a milestone of sorts, explains Brown. He says Canada is the 10th country in which EDPR has a wind farm. And while the Ontario experience was new, the exercise did not dampen the developer’s spirits.

“I guess we like challenging markets,” he jokes. “[South Branch] is a good first start. We’ll be looking for similar opportunities.” w

Project Profile: South Branch Wind Farm

EDP Renewables Invades Ontario, Builds Its First Canadian Project

By Mark Del Franco

EDP Renewables successfully navigated Ontario’s idiosyncratic wind market to complete and energize its first wind project in the Great White North.

 

 

 

 

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