After close to five years of planning and an investment of more than $4 million, West WindEau Inc. got the go ahead from Cypress County Council Tuesday for two land use amendments that would permit the development of a 200 megawatt Wild Rose 1 Wind Farm.
Claude Mindorff, president of the Hat-based wind energy company, acknowledged that council’s approval was an important step, but there’s still a ways to go. Development permits still need to be obtained, transmission issues need to be addressed and an application to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board still needs approval.
In 2005, Cypress County Council had adopted bylaws related to wind farm development and specifically where wind turbines could be deployed.
Over the past two years, the company carried out a comprehensive public consultation process including five open houses, bus tours, mail outs and information booths at the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede. The company also conducted wildlife studies, vegetation surveys, archeological field studies, and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment studies.
With a packed council chamber representing environmentalists, land owners, interested citizens and others, the debate was lengthy before council approved the first land use amendment by a 7-2 vote. It was opposed by councillors George Russill and Gary Lentz opposed.
The second amendment was opposed by Russill, Lentz and councillor Ken Graumans.
For Russill, it was one of the toughest decisions he had to make in his 18 years as a county councillor.
His preference was that council approve the first proposed amendment, but delay approving the second one.
“I would like to see what this development is actually going to look like and what impact it’s going to have on this very special area (the Fringe Area of the Cypress Hills),” Russill said as he addressed council. “There’s no rush to get the second phase moving forward.”
Lentz stressed that whatever decision council made, he wanted to be able to justify the development in the sensitive area to his grandchildren.
County Reeve Jack Osadczuk reminded councillors the county had been working on the proposal with West WindEau for the past five years and that without approving both amendments – the development might not be economically viable for the company to proceed.
David Boileau, chairman of West WindEau, said he was extremely pleased with council’s decision. He was aware that there would be some opposition, but also felt there was a lot of strong public support.
Had he not received support for both amendments though, his company would have walked away.
“They were both integral to each other and we had already sacrificed a number of sites in the Fringe Area in recognition of issues brought forward by the public.”
In the end council decided by a 6-3 vote to support the second amendment as well, with Russill, Lentz and councillor Darcy Geigle opposed.
Earlier in the meeting a number of audience members addressed council.
Medicine Hat resident Ron Chaykowski stressed any decision to move ahead with wind farms impacts residents of Medicine Hat and area – along with all Albertans and indeed all Canadians – given the Cypress Hills 29th place ranking in CBC’s recent Seven Wonders of Canada.
“I’m not against wind farms,” he explained. I’m speaking against the location. I can’t believe this location (the Fringe area around the hills)) is a priority.”
Martha Munz Gue, past president of the Grasslands Naturalists, pushed for the protection of the natural grasslands surrounding the Cypress Hills. Environmentalist Paul Heune, who lives south of Irvine, gave a presentation on what he perceived to be the questionable economics and efficiencies of wind power in the Cypress Hills compared to the Pincher Creek Area.
By Angus Henderson
18 July 2007
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