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Winds of protest buffet SkyPower plan

Kerry Adler, described in his corporate biography as a “true visionary,” is having a spot of trouble with the vision thing in rural Quebec.

The president and chief executive officer of SkyPower Corp. has run into regulatory delays and local resistance to a proposed $360-million wind energy project in the Rivière-du-Loup area, gateway to Quebec’s picturesque Gaspé Peninsula on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.

It’s a classic case of not-in-my-backyard syndrome as critics opposed to Toronto-based SkyPower’s wind turbine colony – in the form currently proposed – contend the costs far outweigh the benefits.

The drawbacks, they say, include noise and visual pollution, ecological damage and minimal economic development for the surrounding rural communities.

For Mr. Adler – who is a majority owner of SkyPower along with Bay Street deal maker David Kassie, chairman of Genuity Capital Markets and former head of CIBC World Markets Inc. – it’s a puzzling state of affairs.

You would think the opportunity to help create clean and renewable energy in these times of heightened concern over global warming would be reason enough – on top of promised economic spinoffs – to win widespread approval, he said in a recent interview.

Failure to win provincial approval for his project, which would be one of the biggest wind farms in Quebec, would send the wrong message to developers, said the former e-commerce and customer service entrepreneur.

“It would be unfortunate if we were not able to resolve this. It could have far-reaching impact in terms of investment in this sector” in Quebec, he warned.

His words were even stronger in a recent interview with the Quebec City CBC radio station: “If a project – a large project like this – doesn’t manage to work itself out and get through the issues in the community and come to reach the light of day, then notionally I would expect [that outside wind energy developers] would think twice before coming to Quebec.”

Philippe Dionne, mayor of tiny St-Paul-de-la-Croix – population 380 – said Mr. Adler has failed to win the trust of the local folk in the Rivière-du-Loup area because of less-than-transparent dealings with the public.

“From the beginning, SkyPower’s public relations efforts on the ground have not been very convincing,” said Mr. Dionne, who is not against wind power in the area but says he wants it done right.

“Relations are very tense,” he said.

SkyPower has significantly modified the project to deal with reservations expressed by the provincial environmental authority and local leaders, and has addressed the major concerns, Mr. Adler said.

The number of proposed turbines has been reduced to 114 from 134 and there will be no windmills located between Highway 20 and the river so as to limit visual obstructions and disruption of migratory flight paths, he said.

He insists that support from the concerned communities is high, at least 70 per cent.

But the province’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement recently highlighted in a report what it said was insufficient public consultation on SkyPower’s part and not much in the way of economic spinoffs.

Wind power is a key part of a green energy push by Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s government.

Hydro-Québec, the provincially owned electric utility, has been ordered to back wind energy in a significant way and is under the gun to meet a target of 4,000 megawatts purchased from independent producers by 2015.

SkyPower is one of four companies that won contracts to supply power to Hydro-Québec without going through a public tendering process. SkyPower says the windmill project will mean direct spending in the Lower St. Lawrence area of about $36.6-million and total expenditures in the province of an estimated $142.5-million.

© The Globe and Mail

By Bertrand Marotte