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Canadian conference promotes wind energy

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OHSWEKEN, Ontario - With the sun shining and the leaves of the hickory
trees turning a golden yellow, the glorious autumn afternoon conditions
were ideal to conduct a class outside - especially when the topic of the
lesson revolved around studying the environment.

Looking straight overhead, participants of the seminar were witnessing how
a wind assessment tower operated. This field trip away from the lecture
room provided a working example of how to interpret data, an imperative
step for determining the viability of harnessing wind as a source of power.

For four days in early October several Canadian bands attended an
introductory energy program. Hosted by The Abor Group (TAG), an
environmental consulting firm, the classes examined the science and the
economics of constructing a wind farm.

TAG President Drew Hill, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River
reserve where the seminar was held, is an environmental engineer who has 15
years experience in site assessments. In his travels he has seen messes and
wastefulness when trying to create energy, especially in Indian country.

"When you start to see the reports of contamination of diesel generators
and see there isn't much action in the solution, that's why my interest in
renewable energy as there have to be alternates for energy generation,"
Hill said.

Wind is converted into power when the massive blades of a turbine rotate.
This movement then operates a gear shaft down through the tower onto a
generator before creating electricity. If the wind farm is a commercial
venture, the energy is connected to an electrical grid and sold to the
respective power company.

To obtain the best results a combination of constant wind and the strategic
placement of the turbines is required. At a cost of $1.5 million Cdn. ($1.2
million U.S.) for just one 1,000-kilowatt turbine, thorough examination of
the conditions are necessary before this type of capital is outlaid because
a farm could have a couple dozen turbines dotting an acreage.

Course instructor Jim Salmon explained how the efficiency of turbines is
calculated with the optimum scenario of regular wind speeds of 10 - 20
meters per second (22 - 33 mph). Ideally, Salmon pointed out, the wind is
blowing from one direction that would permit turbines to be placed in a row
but that situation is not common. So, meticulous records over a 12-month
period using numerous wind assessment towers are needed to determine the
frequency and intensity of the wind.

"When you design a wind farm you're trying to maximize energy production by
putting in as many turbines as possible," said Salmon.

At the Six Nations' tower wind speeds average about 5 meters per second (11
mph) Hill notes southern Ontario is not the best place for this investment.
Also, being close to the electrical grid means energy costs are affordable.

Yet, for many isolated Aboriginal communities, because of their distance
from the grid, they endure comparatively more expensive energy costs in
relation to the southern and geographically-centered Canadian reserves.
Wind power thus can offer an economical salvation for the skyrocketing
costs of energy, especially oil. Hill cites some examples of reserves in
Northern Ontario where the initial prices of electricity are 19 cents per
kilowatt hour (kWh) for the first 500 hours but any power consumed after
that jumps to 96 cents per kWh.

"For a lot of the communities it would make sense when you look at these
figures," said Hill. "Communities up north and off the grid have been
talking for 10 years because they've seen contamination from diesel
accidents and environmental catastrophes as they're all related to
generating electricity."

Unquestionably for the smaller reserves millions of dollars to fix an
ecological problem is a financial stretch. That's why there are some bands
with ideas to partner with private enterprise, noted Hill.

"We have to structure our projects that speak their [business] language and
attract that [outside] investment."

From the Rolling River First Nation in western Manitoba, Chief Morris
Shannacappo represented his band of 1,000 members at the Six Nations
conference. In conjunction with the future purchase of land and an
expansion of a cottage resort that offers freshwater fishing, Rolling River
is interested in developing its own generator to provide electricity for
both their own use and to sell to Manitoba Hydro.

Situated on an escarpment, a wind farm in this section of the Canadian
Prairies is viable said Shannacappo. Now courting investors, the chief
mentioned there are tax breaks for businesses that can make this
partnership work.

Further, the project has a spiritual tie for this First Nation.

"Is it OK to harness our Grandfather Wind for lights and to provide jobs
for our people?" Shannacappo asked within his community before continuing
on his fact-finding mission. "The elders gave their approval."

The spiritual connection at Rolling River is consistent with other First
Nations' beliefs, Hill stated. Using Mother Earth, without harming her,
gives credence to the collection of wind.

"The concept of how we get our energy has an impact on our environment and
what I've seen as renewable falls in line with a lot of the traditional
teachings of First Nations," said Hill.