Sable Island wind project over budget, at a standstill
Environment Canada project is over budget and has been delayed for years
A wind power project on Sable Island off Nova Scotia is over budget and remains at a standstill more than a decade after the federal government launched the initiative.
Environment Canada began a pilot project in 2000 that was supposed to see five wind turbines generate energy onto the grid of the crescent-shaped sandbar known for its wild horses, sand dunes and fragile environment.
But 13 years later, the development has yet to bring electricity onto the island's grid, is marred by cost overruns of more than $330,000 and its future is in doubt.
Parks Canada says it's conducting a technical assessment of the power grid to determine the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to generating energy on the 40-kilometre island.
Julie Tompa, project manager for the Sable Island National Park Reserve, said it's possible the turbines could be scrapped, depending on the results of that assessment.
"Wind will be a primary source of power," said Tompa. "But we require the outcomes of that assessment before we know exactly what that final system will look like."
Tompa could not say when the assessment, which will focus on how to incorporate wind and solar energy on the island, was expected to be complete.
The wind towers are small — about 30 metres compared to the more typical 90-metre towers — and are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, Parks Canada says.
But the turbines require modifications, as wind power has made significant advancements since the project was initiated, said Tompa.
Project faces setbacks
"That system was designed to be primarily diesel generation supplemented by wind power," she said. "We're looking at options to bring the renewable power sources to the forefront as the primary power for the island with diesel backup."
The project has faced a number of setbacks. The island's remote location and severe weather conditions have been obstacles to getting the system up and running, and the need to protect sensitive species and ecosystems has also been a challenge, Parks Canada says.
The project had an original budget of $669,000, but Ottawa has so far spent about $1 million.
NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said she wasn't concerned by the delays and cost overruns.
"We do need to have that kind of investment in experimentation," Leslie said in an interview.
"Sometimes pilot projects not working are actually the best thing when it comes to learning and when it comes to figuring out the next step and innovating."
Sable Island, which sits in the North Atlantic about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax, is home to a weather station, two light stations, an airstrip and a few buildings used mainly by researchers.
Known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, it is home to about 400 wild horses whose ancestry traces back to some of the 223 ships known to have wrecked on its shores and hidden reefs since the mid-1700s.
The island's grasslands, mud flats and sandy beaches support the world's largest congregation of breeding grey seals and several species at risk, including the vulnerable Ipswich Savannah sparrow.
It is being transferred to Parks Canada from Environment Canada after it was designated a national park reserve in 2010.