Construction of Canada’s biggest wind farm could start in Essex County in 2009 if all approvals fall into line, a company spokesman says.
The $500-million Brookfield Power project is nearing the end of the environmental assessment approval process, and local planning approvals aren’t that far behind.
Brookfield operates what is now the country’s largest wind farm just north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
In an interview Friday, Ian Kerr, a Gatineau-based senior manager for Brookfield, said the Ontario Power Authority is scheduled to call for proposals on wind energy in mid-2008.
Allowing three or four months for proposal preparation and approval, a construction start in 2009 is realistic, he said.
Brookfield has plans for 151 turbines within an 8,900-hectare or 22,000-acre leased area of Lakeshore, Kingsville and Leamington.
The much larger study area for the project – roughly 279,000 acres or 113,000 hectares – is bounded by Highway 401 to the north, County Road 18 to the south, County Road 27 on the west and County Road 1 to the east. Less than 400 acres would actually be needed for the turbines.
At this point, no turbines are proposed within Leamington but that could change. The turbine towers are 80 metres high and the three blades 41 metres long.
If all turbines are built, about 250 megawatts of power would be generated, enough to power 50,000 homes.
Kerr said the company welcomes the support for its project from Lakeshore and Kingsville councils, and residents affected – mostly farmers in the rural areas where land has been leased.
Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain said farmers have told the town they were hoping for quick approvals and a start to the project in 2008. Many have said at public meetings the revenue from hosting wind turbines is much-needed given recent lean years for area farmers.
About $2 million in royalties will be paid annually to farmers with leases, plus $300,000 in municipal taxes.
A stack of documents about six inches thick comprises the research the company’s consultant, Stantec, undertook to get the provincial and federal environmental approvals needed. No significant environment effects were found, Stantec said.
Deadline for public comment on the environmental screening report passed Nov. 30. The environmental review by numerous government agencies should wrap up next year.
Essex County hopes to approve its official plan amendments to accommodate wind farms in early 2008. The county must also approve municipal official plan amendments dealing with wind power.
Lakeshore planning consultant Tom Storey said the planning and environmental assessment approval processes are separate, but have some overlap. Many of the studies done by a company for environmental screening will also be requested in the planning process, he said.
Storey, who’s overseen planning for wind power projects in Chatham-Kent, was impressed with the thoroughness of the research done by Brookfield.
“They do their homework,” he said. “There’s been no lack of effort.”
Lakeshore has submitted its official plan amendments to the county for approval, Storey said.
t’s not clear if the county will approve those before completing its own amendments, he added.
Kerr was hoping to see sharing of research and suggestions for changes to official plans as the process continues. He questioned the need for the county to duplicate research done by various proponents and municipalities.
Planners for the seven municipalities, including Storey, are assisting in the revision of Essex County’s official plan to deal with wind power.
While developers of large projects like Brookfield also have to wait for the OPA proposal call, some of the small wind farms seeking approval could get started earlier. The smaller projects are funded separately through an OPA “standard offer” for the power they generate.
Kerr said a big hurdle for the smaller companies is getting approval to connect to the existing electrical grid.
Based on average wind speeds and its flat terrain, much of Essex County is suitable for wind power projects.
Avoiding airports and noted birding areas like Point Pelee National Park, Holiday Beach Conservation Area and Hillman Marsh are concerns being addressed.
Lakeshore has proposed setbacks from homes and businesses of as much as 600 metres, depending on the specific zoning. For farms hosting turbines the setbacks are based on the height of the turbines to eliminate the risk of injury and damage to a home should one topple.
A public meeting to present the draft official plan and zoning bylaw amendments covering wind power projects in Essex County will be held at the Essex Civic Centre at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Copies can be viewed on the county’s website at www.countyofessex.on.ca.
By Gary Rennie
8 December 2007
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