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Icing the wind power cake in Quebec

EDF EN Canada has completed a number of wind projects in the province of Quebec, but the 350-MW Riviere-du-Moulin wind farm is kind of icing on the cake, being Canada's largest wind power project-and the largest onshore wind project ever built by EDF Ener

By Paul MacDonald

It seems appropriate that EDF EN Canada's Alex Couture compares developing and operating a wind power project to playing hockey.

In the last several years, Couture, director of Generation for EDF EN Canada, has overseen the development and construction of seven wind power projects in the Canadian province of Quebec, home of the much-beloved Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

"With the development side of a wind project, it's like you are on the offense line of the hockey team—you want to move things forward and achieve goals," says Couture.

"With the operations side, when a project is completed and you are generating power, it's more like you are playing defense, protecting the goals you have achieved and keeping your wind power assets in good condition."

EDF EN Canada, a subsidiary of EDF Energies Nouvelles, now has plenty of assets to keep in good shape in Quebec, including the Rivière-du-Moulin wind farm which—at 350 MW—is Canada's largest wind power project. It is also the largest onshore wind project ever built by EDF Energies Nouvelles worldwide.

The $800 million Rivière-du-Moulin wind project, located north of the province's capital, Quebec City, is also the largest wind energy facility in Canada with a single power purchase agreement—an agreement with giant utility Hydro-Quebec and its subsidiary Hydro-Quebec Distribution.

Rivière-du-Moulin represents the largest project of the seven awarded to EDF EN Canada in 2008 and 2011 through Hydro-Quebec Distribution's call for tenders. Its seven wind projects in Quebec now generate some 1,003 MW, all of which is purchased by Hydro-Quebec Distribution. The projects represent an investment exceeding $2 billion by EDF EN Canada.

Couture explained that the Rivière-du-Moulin wind farm was developed in two phases. Dividing the 350-MW project into two allowed the company to better manage the project, he says.

"We decided to do phase one with a maximum of 75 turbines, so we could get a better knowledge of the site and improve our construction technique," he says. "The year following, we did the remaining 100 turbines in a short period of time." Tough Canadian winter conditions and strong wind speeds were challenges in achieving an efficient erection process, he reports.

"The wind regime in this region is very good, comparable to several of the other wind project sites we worked on in Quebec. We get good strong winds from November through March—the greater air density due to the cold weather delivers a high capacity factor."

There were other factors that influenced construction of the project, he says. "We are at a high altitude in comparison to the other Quebec wind project sites, with a mean altitude of a little over 900 meters. During construction, that means winter arrives early and leaves late.

"You can still work in the winter, of course," he added, "but at some point, safety, cost management, and efficiency come into the picture. When everything on the site is frozen, construction workers and equipment are less productive—and when it gets really cold, you really can't work at all, in practical terms." Winter temperatures of -20 Celsius are quite routine for the area.

"It was a very complex site to develop—besides the weather, there was also very difficult terrain." In addition to steep terrain, this sometimes included boggy ground conditions.

Although on a map the site may look remote, there were still a number of local stakeholders to deal with.

"When you are on the project site, you get the impression that there might not be too many people in the area, but the region involves rights for hunters, fishing camps, and trappers," explains Couture. "And there were First Nations to deal with and two groups of MRCs, which are equivalent to townships."

So it comes as no surprise that one of the more interesting challenges of the project involved liaising with all these different groups, said Couture.

A liaison committee was established to facilitate the contribution of the community in the development of the project, taking into consideration the interests of land users and encouraging the participation of local businesses. The committee is composed of representatives of the MRCs, First Nations, hunters, trappers, land user groups, business development centers, and others.

The Innu First Nations of Mashteuiatsh, Essipit, and Pessamit signed an agreement with EDF EN Canada concerning the Rivière-du-Moulin project, which is in the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve, a territory of interest for the Innu First Nations.


The 20-year agreement provides a framework for business relations between the parties in the context of the Rivière-du-Moulin project, and ensures favourable economic spinoffs to both parties and notably provides Innu First Nations with the option to acquire a financial interest in the project.

"We are proud to have concluded this agreement with EDF EN Canada, as it will help create benefits within our communities and will ultimately enable our First Nations to become partners in a major wind power project in Canada. This agreement reflects our shared desire to capitalize on development opportunities while promoting the positive economic impact of energy projects on our lands," said the chiefs of the three First Nations involved, in a press release.

"The outcome of our discussions paved the way for this agreement, which will generate benefits for both parties throughout the life of the project," said Couture.

Throughout the negotiations, it was clear that the First Nations leaders were interested in being a partner in the creation of this new wind energy project—and they now have the option to invest in the project, and be owners of the project, along with EDF EN Canada, added Couture. This aspect of the agreement was important, he added. "This is precisely why we were able to reach an agreement to the mutual benefit of both parties."

Couture noted the Rivière-du-Moulin wind farm also marks the first large wind farm in Quebec that has negotiated a wildlife management agreement.

"We were the first wind farm in the province to include a wildlife reserve—that took five years of negotiating with SEPAQ, the provincial body in charge of managing wildlife reserves."

With there being hunting and fishing activities within the site, they had to work out how to accommodate 175 wind turbines with minimal impact. "It was something we were able to achieve, but it took time," says Couture.

Couture noted that it took time to get all the parties on board with the project. He estimated this part of the process involved more than 140 meetings with the various stakeholders. "It's part of the process, but being able to get agreements with all of the parties was a great achievement for us," he said.

While a large project such as Rivière-du-Moulin involves a lot of logistics and development and construction know-how, Couture said one of the key features of a successful wind project, from EDF EN Canada's perspective, is getting social acceptance.

"It's very important to get things completed within the construction time window you have, and to get the most efficient construction performance. But it's also important to work with the local people and build upon the relationship you have with them for the long-term success of a project."

Senvion supplied wind turbines for the project, with the nacelles coming from Germany via the seaport in La Baie, in nearby Saguenay. Following the stipulations of Hydro-Quebec, there was a fair bit of Quebec content. Couture said it was key that this part of the deal was arranged well in advance. "Quebec content in the project was very important. We sat down with the turbine supplier early on to make it clear that this is what the utility and project requires." Senvion was better able to achieve this—and get some manufacturing economies of scale—because supplying Rivière-du-Moulin was part of a one-gigawatt framework agreement Senvion signed with EDF EN Canada in 2009.

LM Wind Power supplied the blades from their Gaspé plant, and towers were produced at Marmen's Matane plant. SEG Woodward assembled the electrical converters in New Richmond, Quebec.

The province of Quebec is no stranger to large construction projects; over the past decades, billions of dollars were spent to build massive hydropower facilities in the province. So there is a very capable contractor base. Construction was carried out by a joint venture, Construction Energie Renouvelable (CER), a consortium consisting of Construction LFG, EBC, and Transelec Common, all three being Quebec companies. "In terms of knowledge and execution, the CER group was able to provide us what we needed," says Couture.

Senvion supplied 175 two-megawatt units for the Rivière-du-Moulin project, consisting of Senvion MM92 and MM82 Cold Climate Version (CCV) type turbines. Several of the turbines are equipped with Senvion deicing technology, adapted for cold Canadian climate conditions. 

He noted that the CER Group had also worked on one of the other wind projects EDF EN Canada had built in Quebec at the time when the decision to select the Balance of Plant contractor was taken, so the CER Group knew EDF EN's approach to projects. "CER has skilled people, and they knew what they had to deliver." And they delivered with a very large construction site.

"That was one of the challenges for CER and EDF EN Canada—the site is so big," says Couture. Rivière-du-Moulin, with a total site size of 60 square miles and 350 MWs of turbines, could be likened to a big puzzle. The challenge was to put the big puzzle together within a very narrow time window.

In addition to the turbine erection and connections, the project involved some other major work, including 155 kilometers of roads, 175 foundations totaling 45,000 cubic meters of concrete, and more than 700 kilometers of electrical cable and underground fiber optic cable, and a substation and control building. The project also involved engineering the associated drainage, bridges, and culvert design.

Unlike some other EDF EN Canada projects, the Quebec project also included tree clearing on the heavily forested site, using the expertise of local logging contractors.

Once the clearing was complete, they were able to get some traction on the concrete work. "We prepared the civil work for phase one and phase two at the same time," said Couture. That allowed them to do the concrete foundation pouring for both phases, with phase one turbine erections in 2014, and phase two turbine erections in 2015.

The company and its contractor were fortunate in that a major highway runs near (10 miles) the site, and links the Saguenay Region with the provincial capital, Quebec City.

From the highway, they were able to make good use of logging roads built in the region, though, as noted, there was also a fair bit of road construction. "There was a lot of road already in place, but we also now have a good network of roads that link the site," says Couture.

The project had a work force the size of a small town, with 560 workers on site at the peak of construction. It has created 20 permanent operation and maintenance jobs.

There was a milestone aspect to the project for turbine supplier Senvion—the Rivière-du-Moulin wind farm is the biggest onshore contract in the history of Senvion. The company supplied all 175 two-megawatt units for the Rivière-du-Moulin project, consisting of Senvion MM92 and MM82 Cold Climate Version (CCV) type turbines. Several of the turbines are equipped with Senvion de-icing technology, adapted for cold Canadian climate conditions.

"Rivière-du-Moulin is a great example of our regional expertise in action as Senvion managed to complete and deliver the project to commercial operation two weeks ahead of schedule," said Helmut Herold, CEO of Senvion in North America, on the completion of the project. "That is no small feat, considering the territory's complex terrain and often adverse weather conditions."

But such weather challenges are something that EDF EN Canada and its construction and supplier partners ably managed with both phases of the Rivière-du-Moulin project-and the six other Quebec wind projects the company has completed over the last six years.

Operation and maintenance for all of the wind farms is provided by EDF Renewable Services, EDF Energies Nouvelles's North American subsidiary dedicated to the maintenance segment.

And Couture noted that EDF EN Canada's involvement with the communities and contact with local groups is ongoing. For example, they have annual meetings with all stakeholders.

"I'm fortunate in that I have the privilege of continuing the communication we have with the stakeholder groups—it's been interesting to see how things have evolved, and to be able to see the economic benefits that the wind projects have brought to the region."

With the completion of the last of the seven wind farm projects awarded by Hydro—Quebec to EDF EN Canada under this contract, there was a lot of pride in a job well done by the members of the EDF EN Canada team. "We're very proud of what we've been able to achieve, and the capacity we've built here in Montreal with our office."

And its activities in Quebec continue—in 2015, the company won a 224-MW project under a new Hydro-Quebec Distribution call for tenders.