For shareholders of Naikun Wind Energy (TSXV:NKW) the past few years have been anything but a breeze. The company has been embroiled in the long process of sorting through a tangle of regulatory and environmental clearances for what would be the North American’s first ocean based wind farm.
Shares of Naikun hit a high of $3.95 in July of 2007 on the promise that the project might quickly get a green light, but had fallen to pennies as the approval of the ambitious project looked less and less likely.
But on Friday, share of Naikun were up more than 200%, to $.335, as nearly fourteen million shares changed hands. The reason? Naikun, on Thursday announced it had received a federal-screening decision from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, proving that Canada’s first offshore wind project “can be constructed with no significant environmental, social or health effects.”
The proposed Naikun Wind Energy Project will consist of 110 wind energy turbines placed directly in Hectate Straight, which is located between Haida Gwai, which used to be know as The Queen Charlotte Islands, and Prince Rupert. Naikun believes the project could be self-sufficient by 2016 and produce enough energy to power 130,000 homes in British Columbia. The wind in the Hectate straight is unusually strong, estimated to have a 10-metre-per-second-average annual speed. This makes the area especially well suited to this type of project, which have become established in places like Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
As shares of Naikun have fallen over the past few years, many of the criticisms around the project have, predictably, focused on its environmental aspects. Some believe that, because the wind farm would be close to shore and in shallow water where birds feed, it could disrupt their migration routes. Others were concerned it could infringe upon the local crab fishery.
As with any energy source touted as a solution to powering millions of homes, offshore wind projects are not without their critics. The Netherland’s Rabobank Group which watches the sector closely, says “…offshore wind is still an expensive way to generate electricity because of wind characteristics, water depth, and distance to shore.” MIT’s Technology Review says the cost of offshore wind energy begins at nine cents per kilowatt-hour and can rise as high as 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas onshore wind power cost about five cents per kilowatt-hour.
When speaking to the UK’s Guardian, European Union climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard disputed the cost claims suggesting the issue is more about scalability. “Some people tend to believe that nuclear is very, very cheap, but offshore wind is cheaper than nuclear”. Hedegaard went on to suggest that the Japanese nuclear accidents would “automatically” turn attention to renewable power.
Ocean based wind farms are also getting a push on this side of the Atlantic. Last month, the US government announced that it will spend up to $50 million to study the viability of offshore wind farms with an eye towards establishing four “wind energy areas” in the outer continental shelf. US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says about 78 percent of the nation’s electricity demand lies in 28 coastal states.