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CBU Wind Farm Opens

$17-million wind farm makes CBU the world's first carbon-neutral university.

The wind turbines rise up behind Donnie MacIsaac, director of facilities management at CBU, and president David Wheeler. Photo courtesy of Cape Breton University.

It was a busy morning at Cape Breton University on Saturday, 14 May 2016.

A few hours before the CBU graduation exercises got underway, there was an unrelated gathering of university brass and interested locals at the Verschuren Centre to celebrate the opening of Cape Breton University’s own wind farm.

The windfarm is located on a section of the old Devco railway bed about two kilometers directly north of the university campus. Motorists (cyclist/ pedestrians) on the Glace Bay Highway will see the three wind turbines easily enough.

A bus took about 30 people to the windfarm site for the inauguration ceremony. A gentle breeze was blowing and the blades were spinning at about 1/3 of their peak rotational velocity.

Donnie MacIsaac, CBU’s Director, Facilities Management, spoke first. The project, he said, got underway on Valentine’s Day, 2012. It took four years to complete and is now generating 5.4 megawatts of power, more than twice the current energy requirements of the university. The balance of the energy generated with be sold to Nova Scotia Power (NSP).

The wind turbines were built by Enercon in Germany. The blades came from Portugal. The machinery was landed at Sheet Harbor. The base structure was built in Quebec.

The total cost of the project was $17-million.

MacIsaac then introduced CBU’s partner in the project, Austen Hughes, Vice President of Operations of Natural Forces Technologies of Halifax. Natural Forces owns 11% of the wind farm, which they appear to have earned by helping save the project when it ran into problems a year-or-so ago.

Hughes talked about the Nova Scotia Department of Energy’s Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT) which guaranteed the project a price of $131 per megawatt hour for 20 years. The COMFIT allowed CBU to obtain a bank mortgage to finance the wind turbines.

David Wheeler, President of CBU, was the next to speak. He announced that CBU is now the world’s first carbon-neutral university. He thanked and gave credit to numerous people in the university administration, which lead me to guess that this initiative was largely driven by university staff.

Wheeler thanked CBU Chancellor, Annette Verschuren, who has a new book out: Bet On me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life, and also has, Wheeler mentioned, a new energy storage company, NRStor Inc.

He thanked Nova Scotia Energy Minister, Michel Sampson, for his support during those alluded-to-but-never-explained troubles they experienced mid-project.

He thanked Membertou Chief Terry Paul for permitting the wind farm to be built on these traditional Mi’kmaw lands, and reiterated the university’s respect for the native heritage of Cape Breton.

And Wheeler thanked his wife Michelle Wheeler for her research of energy policy back in 2012, which Wheeler explained was the impetus for the wind farm. I personally thought it was a nice touch that the project was started on Valentine’s Day 2012, and that Wheeler remembered to thank his wife for giving him and the university a nudge in the right direction back when. Nice nudge, Michelle. And attaboy, David.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke spoke next. He thanked the university for the municipal taxes he expected they would be paying on the property. He spoke briefly about harbour development, and possibly marketing the much-anticipated container terminal as a carbon neutral site itself. And finally he said that CBRM and CBU would be working together to create an internship program for university students.

Michel Sampson, Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Energy, spoke last. He too spoke to the problems the project had faced. He explained how the government agreed to support CBU in return for a personal commitment from David Wheeler to see the project through to completion.

While it was never clear to me what happened, it was quite clear that everyone involved were both relieved and pleased that the CBU wind farm initiative had succeeded.

The ceremony drew to a close just as the first raindrops started to fall. David Wheeler thanked everyone for coming and urged them to pray for wind.

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