The people in the audience may have been wearing shirts that said “No” on them, but the Brome-Missisquoi MRC has given a qualified yes to a proposed wind power project. “It is conditional on the signing of an agreement with Groupe SM to reduce the impact,” said Robert Desmarais, director general of the Brome-Missisquoi Regional Municipal Council.
The agreement outlines six main conditions that the company must meet if it is to build 31 industrial windmills in Bedford Township, Notre-Dame-de-Stanbridge and Pike River:
Any damage caused to the road network during the construction will be repaired
Noise level tests must be carried out regularly and passed
If the rotating blades cause any ill stroboscopic effect on residents they must be minimized
Local workers and suppliers must be given first priority during construction
Any telecommunications problems caused by the towers (cell phone reception, public security communications) must be dealt with, at SM’s expense
And $100,000 must go to the MRC every year for a fund to improve the Pike River.
Over the course of the 25-year project another $10 million will be paid out to the three municipalities as well.
But those conditions were not enough to satisfy opponents of the project, who argue that the area is unsuitable for a wind farm. About 100 turned out to voice their opinion during a question period that lasted nearly an hour, and included the presentation of a 500-name petition against the project. In anticipation of the large crowd, the Tuesday night MRC meeting had been moved to the Cowansville town hall.
In the end 15 mayors voted in favor of the conditions, while the mayors of Notre-Dame-de-Stanbridge, Frelighsburg, West Bolton and Brome voted against.
“We achieved some small satisfaction from that,” said Carole Danserau, spokeswoman for eoliennes-infos.com, the group formed to try to stop the project. “That there is some degree of division.”
Danserau said efforts to stop the project are far from over: The group is now putting together a record of media accounts, the petition and other resistance efforts to present to Hydro Quebec. Hydro has outlined in its criteria for wind energy projects that they must be approved of by the community.
“We want to show that this does not have social acceptability,” Dansereau said.
The coalition contends that the project will be too close to inhabited areas, with residents having to put up with noise and visual pollution. They say it will take up valuable farmland, while almost all of the financial benefit will go to those outside the region.
“We will continue and it won’t be easy,” Danserau said. “We are getting into a process that will be very long.”
Groupe SM will now present its project to Hydro Quebec on Sept. 17. The following night the MRC will hold a meeting to adopt the final version of its agreement with Groupe SM. Once again that meeting will be held at the Cowansville town hall to accommodate the numbers expected to speak out on the issue.
The provincial power utility will then announce its final choices from the various projects presented on Jan. 8. If Groupe SM’s plan makes it that far, the coalition plans to call for public hearings by Quebec’s environmental board, the BAPE. The project must also get the nod from the farmland protection board, the CPTAQ, and Cabinet approval.
“We asked for a referendum, which we didn’t get,” Danserau said. “The best referendum will be in 2009, when we will bring in new councils and mayors over this issue.”
Danserau said the coalition may have some extra ammunition this fall with the presentation of a cultural affairs ministry “Green Book”, which she says will acknowledge the value of heritage landscapes. She said it will be another tool in the fight against the impact of windmills on the local community.
“This project means that you have an industry arriving in an area that is agricultural and inhabited,” she said. “In Europe they put them on mountains or even out on the sea, away from the population.”
She argues that Quebec is relatively unregulated when it comes to wind energy, which private corporations are now trying to take advantage of. She said the windmills will ultimately cost Quebec more than they are worth.
The ideal place for a wind farm? Danserau suggests they would be more suitable in northern Quebec, casting their shadows on existing hydroelectric projects rather than on the rich farmland of Brome-Missisquoi.
By Maurice Crossfield
23 August 2007