The power of wind

January 19, 2012
Raina Delisle
James Griffiths

When James Griffiths walked into Sea Breeze Power’s office in 2002, he had no idea he’d be part of the team to bring the first wind farm to Vancouver Island.

Griffiths’ sister was doing clerical work for the renewable energy company and he wanted to learn more about the organization and the industry. At the time, he was a recent physics and astronomy grad from the University of British Columbia searching for his calling.

“Combine what you can do with what you care about,” he says, citing some of the best advice he’s received. “I have a physics and a science background, I care about sustainability, so energy seemed like the way to go. As a privileged member of society, I was certainly relying on resources that were being extracted in a way that wasn’t leaving a good footprint and thought I could potentially contribute to righting that.”

Griffiths’ curiosity in Sea Breeze led to a job with the company and now the 2008 grad from the Master of Science in Environment and Management program is the company’s manager of wind development.

When Griffiths first joined Sea Breeze, he recalls, the company had a vision and people with experience in business, but no idea how to develop a wind farm in B.C.

“I got to take on a lot of responsibility and really learn through doing, which is a privilege,” he says. “Most of what I’ve learned has been on the job and from Royal Roads.”

Griffiths was eager to get more education, but also didn’t want to leave his company because the Cape Scott Wind Farm, the first wind energy project to be approved by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, could move forward at any time. The blended learning model at Royal Roads – combining online learning with short on-campus residencies – was perfect for Griffith – and for Sea Breeze.

“Royal Roads was a great opportunity to for me to study and stay involved and synergize my learning with what I was doing at work.”

In a case of perfect timing, as soon as Griffiths’ school projects wrapped up, the Cape Scott project moved forward. Sea Breeze no longer owns the project (IPR-GDF Suez is the majority owner), but is staying involved and supporting the new team. Griffiths played a key role in project design, environmental investigation, permitting, marketing and equity financing of the project.

“We’re pretty excited to have something to show for our efforts. It will be the first wind farm on the Island,” Griffiths says, adding that the 99-megawatt project aims to produce enough electricity for 30,000 homes or 100,000 residential users in B.C. Construction on the project is starting soon and it will be operating in early 2013.

On Jan. 26, Griffiths will be sharing more information about the project with people working in the green technology sector at the GreenTech Exchange Vancouver Island Inaugural Forum: The Dawn of Wind Energy Distribution on Vancouver Island, hosted at Royal Roads. Along with Sea Breeze president and CEO Paul Manson, Griffiths will also discuss the proposed Juan de Fuca project, a development-stage bi-directional transmission line that connects and strengthens the westerly end points of both the B.C. and Washington State transmission grids.

GreenTech Exchange started in Vancouver in 2009, and now Vancouver Island co-ordinator Tom McDowell, an aerospace engineer by trade, is bringing the same successful model to Victoria. The industry group hosts monthly events and an online portal, with the goal of cultivating the green technology community and accelerating the growth of innovation and product solutions. GreenTech boasts a membership of about 1,400.

“Royal Roads has done a stack of sustainability education,” McDowell says of his decision to partner with the university. “We’re really looking at promoting the advances of Royal Roads.”

The primary objective of GreenTech Exchange Vancouver Island, McDowell says, is to promote business deals and training and employment opportunities. He also hopes to facilitate meetings that bring together researchers, policymakers and businesses in the region and from international markets.

“Being an engineer, you always see benefit in innovation and opportunities,” McDowell says. “I’m hoping to help open up some new opportunities to broaden the engineering-tech base on the Island and give more opportunities to the students.”

“It’s quite an honour and prestige to have this event here at Royal Roads,” says associate professor and head of the Master of Environmental Management program Charles Krusekopf, who has been working with McDowell on planning the event. “Sustainability and applied learning are in our mandate. GreenTech is very much about applied learning and the real focus is on the practitioners and the companies in this field – getting them together to create a working group.”

For his part, Griffiths hopes to educate people about wind energy on the Island and learn a few new things from other attendees.

“In my work and non-work life, I brush up against other clean technologies, other green initiatives, and every day my assumptions get challenged,” he says. “I think people have a rewarding feeling when they come together to share ideas and to be heard.”

Griffiths hopes people will take two things away from his talk:

“Wind energy is a mature technology. It is not something wacky. Even the term ‘alternative energy’ gets used a lot, but there’s nothing alternative about it. Yes, it’s renewable and it’s not fossil fuel, but it’s growing at a massive rate globally. It’s really mainstream.

“A lot of environmental impacts associated with wind energy are very dependent on the site. Cape Scott has low habitat features for wildlife.”

A number of Royal Roads students and alumni work in the green technology sector and are eager to share their work. In the week leading up to the GreenTech Exchange meeting, we will be posting Q&As with members of our community working in the field. If you would like to participate, please contact Raina Delisle.