On Dec. 10, Algonquin Power posted on its LinkedIn page that the final blade of its 35-turnbine Blue Hill wind facility was in place. Photo by Algonquin Power/LinkedIn

HERBERT, – On Dec. 10, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. posted on its social media that the final blade of its 35-wind turbine Blue Hill wind farm in southeast Saskatchewan had been installed.

The project was built by Borea Construction. Stantec provided the engineering.

The $355 million Blue Hill Wind Project is rated for 177 megawatts of power generation. It is located between Herbert and Neidpath in southwest Saskatchewan. However, the nameplate capacity of wind generation is its full capacity in optimum conditions, and does not reflect power generation when wind speeds are too low, too high, or when the temperature is too cold to allow operation of the turbines.

Part of the approval process was an environmental impact assessment, which can be found here. The province’s Ministry of Environment technical review, dated June, 2018, originally noted the project’s wind turbines would each have a capacity between 3.2 and 3.7 megawatts, depending on the model and manufacturer. However, as the project ended up with 35 Siemens Gamesa wind turbine generators, each generating 5 megawatts.The larger-capacity turbines resulted in fewer actual turbines overall.

The technical review said, “The project area was selected to maximize wind resource potential and avoid identified environmental constraints. The project footprint is 158.2 hectares located over 4,028 hectares (62 quarter sections) of private land consisting of cultivated lands (98.8 ha), hayland and tame pasture (44.5 ha); water/wetland (4.3 ha), developed and exposed land (10 ha), and native prairie (0.6 ha). The project area does not overlap any large waterbodies or wind turbine avoidance zones as identified in the ministry’s Wildlife Siting Guidelines for Saskatchewan Wind Energy Project (siting guidelines.”

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That 2018 technical review noted the project’s scope included supporting infrastructure such as permanent access roads, an electrical collection system for the generated power, permanent maintenance/storage facilities, temporary offices and lay down areas, a high speed fibre-optic communications lines and meteorological towers. Each turbine would be seated on a reinforced concrete foundation (pad) approximately 2 metres deep and 15 metres in diameter covering a total surface area of 177 m2. The turbine towers would be between 80 to 105 metres from the foundation to the hub, where the turbine blade connects to the main shaft and to the rest of the drive train. There would be three blades approximately 40 to 68 metres long on each turbine resulting in a total height of approximately 120 to 173 metres from the ground to the top of the blade.

“The voltage of electricity produced (i.e. power) by the wind turbine generators (WTG) would be stepped-up from 690 volts to 34.5 kilovolt by a transformer located inside the WTG system or outside the tower at the base of each WTG. The power would then be distributed through an electrical collection system that includes underground collector lines through private lands and along overhead collector lines located along existing municipal grid road rights-of-ways (ROWs) to a new collector substation. A total of 57 kilometres of collector lines would be required for the project. The 34.5 kilovolt power at the collection centre would be stepped up to 138 kilovolt and conveyed overhead via transmission lines to a future SaskPower switching station. A communication and data collection fiber-optic cable would be required and would be placed in the same trench as the electrical collection system wherever possible,” the review said.

SaskPower has set a 2030 goal, of 30 per cent renewable energy powering the grid. Part of that is the infrastructure necessary to connect the new wind power generation to the grid. To do that, the Crown corporation built a new 230 kilovolt power line.

SaskPower said on its website that on Sept. 21 it had successfully completed and powered up the Blue Hill wind power line. The new line is about 23 kilometers long and was ready to move power from the Blue Hill Wind Facility to its new switching station in Herbert.

According to presentation slides for the power line project, the line used tubular steel H-frame structures, from 19 to 27 metres in height. Sacrificial anodes are installed alongside the structures. The average span of the line is approximately 240 metres. The typical right of way is 40 metres wide.

Birds

Consideration of bird habitat and the risk of birds hitting wind turbines scuttled another wind project located near Chaplin in 2016. In announcing the denial of the project, then-environment minister, now-Premier Scott Moe said, “Ultimately, there were potential negative impacts to birds and migratory corridors, as well as other risks, that led us to conclude this is not an appropriate location for a wind energy project.”

That defunct Chaplin project was the precursor for the successful Blue Hill project. Chaplain was also proposed by Algonquin Power, and was supposed to have been an identical 177 megawatts in capacity.

The Ministry of Environment technical review noted of the Blue Hill project, “The project area would be located 5 kilometres southwest of Reed Lake and 4.5 kilometres east of the Highfields Reservoir. Reed Lake is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for staging migratory bird species. There are no designated wildlife conservation lands within the project area and the nearest designated land would be located 1.6 kilometres west of the project area. The project area does not overlap any critical habit defined by the federal government’s species recovery strategies or any wind turbine avoidance zones as outlined in the siting guidelines. The closest proposed WTG to an avoidance zone, the Reed Lake IBA, would be 7 kilometres.”

Lifespan

Unlike coal-fired power plants, which have a life expectancy of 50 years on its units, or major nuclear plants, which in Canada have seen life extensions meant to see them last closer to 75 years, this power facility has a life expectancy that’s much lower.

The Ministry of Environment technical review said, “The expected lifespan of the project is a minimum of 25 years. Decommissioning and reclamation of the site would occur according to an approved decommissioning plan and would adhere to environmental standards in place at the time of decommissioning. Decommissioning would involve dismantling and removal of all project components from the site and removal of wind turbine generator pads to a depth of 1 to 1.5 metres in order to return the site to a condition suitable for previous land uses (e.g. agriculture, grazing) or new uses as may be determined in consultation with landowners.”

 

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