By Dan Barnes, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Paul First Nation leaders say they are committed to providing an alternative to the coal-fired power plants that have for decades cast a shadow over the 1,900-member reserve, located 70 kilometres west of Edmonton.
The First Nation announced recently it has formed a partnership with development company Focus Equities on a proposed 1,000-megawatt, gas-fired power plant that would cost about $1 billion to build and would be connected to the provincial grid. Plans are to build the Great Spirit Power Project in one phase — four gas-fired turbines in combination with two steam turbines — and have the 30-month construction on Paul First Nation industrial park land completed in 2017.
It would be the largest single-phase power project in the province.
“As a Nation that lives in the shadow of large, aging coal plants, we are proud to be a part of such an environmentally friendly project that will provide social, health-related and economic benefits for our people and other Treaty 6 Nations,” said chief Casey Bird.
There is an opportunity for five to seven other First Nations to join the Ironhead First Nations Partnership, founded by Paul First Nation for the purposes of this power project. Focus Equities will be the project lead, while First Nations participants will earn an equity stake. Focus Equities vice-president of energy Terence de Pentheny O’Kelly said his firm’s executives have decades of experience working on power plants in Virginia, Huntington Beach, Calif., Fort Lupton, Colo., and elsewhere in the world, but none in Canada.
The Alberta Electric System Operator received formal notification of the proposal on Jan. 20, said spokesperson Dawn Delaney.
“From the AESO’s perspective, we’re pleased to receive their formal notification that they plan to move forward. We’re adding that project to our project list and we’re co-ordinating a meeting with the project team. That would include the AESO, the market participant, in this case the Great Spirit Power Project, and the TFO, the transmission facility owner, which will be ATCO.”
Once added to the AESO project list, it will bring proposed future output to about 10,000 megawatts of gas-fired, solar and wind-powered generation.
“We’re looking at 6,000 megawatts of generation that will be required by 2022,” said Delaney. “It’s to respond to growing demand as well as a replacement for those retiring coal units. The coal retirements account for about 720 megawatts of the 6,000 megawatts.”
While it is the province’s most ambitious project, de Pentheny O’Kelly said he doesn’t see this as an over-build.
“From a macro-economic perspective, there is a huge need for power in the province in the decade ahead. The power demand will double and coal plants are coming offline. There is an enormous supply gap that needs to be filled. We’re confident the demand will be there.”
Focus Equities and Paul First Nation first worked together on an unsuccessful bid to build the Fort McMurray West Transmission line.
“We developed a great relationship with them,” said de Pentheny O’Kelly. “Chief Casey Bird approached us, saying ‘the coal plants are going to be coming offline. Would you guys be interested in working with us to develop replacement capacity?’ ”
He said the next steps include securing equipment suppliers for the turbines — likely to originate in Germany, Japan or the United States — as well as lining up contractors and submitting an application to the Alberta Utilities Commission.