Wind blows Comox man’s career northward



September 22, 2014

Comox resident David Durrant is a third-generation Vancouver Islander.

Now he’s managing aspects of a pioneering Island project to benefit not only the present but also future generations.
And “generation” is a particularly apt word, for he is in charge of operating and maintaining a series of windturbines at the Island’s first windpark, just inland of Cape Scott.

Fifty-five sleek steel towers, each as tall as a 27-storey building, have been constructed on the land of three First Nations, and their huge blades turn turbines that now pump electricity into the B.C. Hydro grid that serves the entire north island, including the Comox Valley.

His work there is very different from what he has known before, but he bubbles with enthusiasm about the job and the enormous potential for “harvesting the wind.”

It’s a long way from his first job as a grade five student at the former Bay Store in Comox, and soon after at the Comox Centre Mall.
In his adult career, he became well known as the Comox recreation director and later as assistant administrator for the Village of Cumberland, as well as through his volunteering with a host of local projects and groups.

He thought of retiring after leaving his job at Cumberland in 2012. “I did retire – for about five seconds,” he recalls. “But I decided to reinvent myself.”
Away from regular work he become interested in the issue of energy sources and sustainability – not just coal, gas and oil, but also geothermal, nuclear, solar and windpower.

“The wind industry captured my imagination,” he says. “In North America, 38 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from the power sector, especially coal.”

He suggests the potential for clean windenergy is “immense,” particularly here on Vancouver Island, and he believes windpower in general could supply more than 20 per cent of the world’s electricity needs.

“For me, I saw nothing but opportunity. This is a high paying, advanced technology profession where project budgets run into the billions of dollars. But what truly captured my imagination was that it was good for our community and our country as well.” He wrote to Vestas-American Wind Technology Inc., a Danish turbine company with global interests, which was involved in developing the Cape Scott site. “One evening the phone rang, and the next thing I knew I was off to Portland and Chicago,” he recalls. He’s now been with the company for more than a year, and in that time has travelled far and wide to learn more about the most effective operation of windparks.

At Cape Scott, he is the hands-on manager for Vestas. “I climb every week, and help up in the towers as much as I can. It is incredibly interesting work, especially when viewed from 80 metres up.”

In the right conditions, he explains, the turbines can be remotely operated at or near 100 per cent efficiency, as it’s possible to pitch the giant blades and rotate – or “yaw” – the turbines to maximize benefit.

“Any pilot would be interested in what we do, because in many ways we fly the turbines,” he says.

The electricity generated at the windpark is supplied to B.C. Hydro through the overall project owner, GDF Suez Canada, which also has people on site at Cape Scott. The power is transmitted via a new transmission line to Port Hardy to connect with the B.C. Hydro grid.

Durrant believes windenergy can help revitalize and diversify rural economies as well as provide new short-and long-term jobs. It can provide extra income for local governments to use in their communities as well as lease payments to landowners in return for hosting the equipment.
Durrant accepts that there are perceived negatives to the development of windparks, or wind farms as some people know them.

“People have widely varied reactions to seeing windturbines in the landscape,” he said. “Some people see graceful symbols of economic development and environmental progress or sleek icons of modern technology. Others might see industrial encroachment in natural and rural landscapes.”

But he enthuses about the positives and the bigger picture. “For the sake of the planet, energy security, rural economic revitalization and resource preservation, we must promote a renewable energy economy,” he said.

” Windpower can be the cornerstone of a sustainable energy future. Embracing windenergy today will lay the foundation for a healthy tomorrow.”

 

By Philip Round

Courtesy of Comox Valley Echo