Chisasibi’s Yudinn Energy has applied for an export permit from the National Energy Board to build a wind farm that will generate up to 1,650 megawatts; and with it, the ability to sell excess energy to the U.S. and Ontario as well as other parts of Quebec.

Yudinn and its project partner, energy startup Ventus, have been studying the patterns of wind in and around their territory since 2004 and the findings are encouraging.

“The meteorological towers are about 40-50 metres high,” said Yudinn Chairman Roderick Pachano. “There are instruments on the towers that measure the wind, the temperature and all sorts of other data. We have a little windmill there that produces power in case we run into really cold temperatures. In that case, it’ll come on and heat it up a bit.”

Pachano said the towers have been place at a half dozen sites that produce the most wind in Eeyou Istchee, including the Brisay area near the La Grande complex.

“We entered into a partnership in summer 2004 with Ventus. We started the wind investigations that summer and have had our meteorological towers up since then. We’ve had over a year and a half of data in certain places and we’ll be putting some more up this spring in the south of LG-2,” he said.

The farm is expected to cost $3 billion and produce enough energy that Pachano said would benefit everyone. “It makes good economic sense. It’s good not only for the community but for the province and the industry. It’s also good for Hydro Quebec if they wish to participate. This is probably more true green power than hydroelectricity and is much cleaner. I think the people here have an opportunity to participate in the economic development of the territory. They can achieve a real sense of pride by accomplishment. We can be one of the leaders in this area of development.”

The partners are still seeking investors.

The idea came to Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert a couple of years ago when he got a call from John Douglas, President and CEO of Ventus.

“I’m not looking at right now, I’m looking at future generations,” said Rupert. “It’s something that we as First Nations can take part in the development, especially how we understand the land. Wind energy is perfect with the way we look at the land and the environment around us.”

Rupert said that Hydro Quebec has been contacted and Yudinn has applied for a working partnership to have Hydro sell to and buy from Yudinn, but that talks have stalled.

“We tried to discuss with Hydro, but it didn’t go anywhere,” said Rupert. “The door is still open and we’re still willing to discuss this with them. But it’s a choice they’ll have to make, whether to sit down with us or not. Our plans are still to forge ahead.”

Hydro spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

The energy generated from the proposed farm would also be enough to power the town – sort of. When asked if wind power would eventually replace hydroelectric energy, Pachano replied “the wind power is only generated when there’s wind and I don’t think the people will accept sitting in the dark when there’s no wind,” he joked. “Right now the only way you can store the energy is batteries, so you probably need quite a few batteries for a community the size of Chisasibi.”

Further data needs to be collected before he would say for sure if a full-blown switchover would be feasible.

There is also a limit as to how the windmills, which can reach up to 150 metres high, will operate. “The towers will only operate between 6 kilometres an hour and up to 50,” Pachano explained. “After 50, you have to stop until the wind lessens a bit because it will be too hard on the engine and the turbines will be moving way too fast. So we have a problem when there’s not enough wind and a problem when there’s too much wind.”

The towers will range in size from 1.5 megawatts up to 3.8 megawatts, depending on availability. Pachano also said that they will have a cold weather package that enables the towers to work in cold weather.

“There will be huge economic spin offs,” said Pachano. “Not only in terms of jobs during the construction, but also the maintenance of the operation after that. It is part of the community’s goal to work towards more economic self-sufficiency. They (the community) are looking at this very positively after having to live through huge hydroelectric developments in their territory and the impacts that had on their lifestyle.”