WENTWORTH – While few here are arguing the benefits of wind power, there is a growing movement opposed to a proposed wind power project planned for the nearby Higgins Mountain area.
The Folly Lake Wentworth Valley Environmental Preservation Society has launched a campaign for the provincial government to place a moratorium on wind power projects until a number of concerns are dealt with.
“We realize that not everyone is concerned about this, and that many want to see green power and sustainable, renewable power as quickly as it can get online, at any expense,” said society member Garfield Moffat. “We are big supporters of it, but we want it done right. Right enough, that it can become a blueprint for future projects.”
Three wind turbines were constructed on Higgins Mountain by Confederation Power Inc. in late 2006 as a test phase of a larger wind power project. The environment minister had approved an environmental assessment on the project that fall, stipulating follow-up study of potential impact on bats and birds, as well as erosion and sediment control.
Confederation Power intends to construct new turbines at the site in the future, whenever new opportunities to sell the energy arise, according to the company website, which also indicated the expanded project could encompass a wind farm of up to 100 MW in output, comprised of up to 66 turbines.
This does not sit well with the society members, who complain that about 25 of the turbines would line the ridge of the Wentworth Valley, in close proximity to homes.
Along with the moratorium, they are calling on a more detailed environmental assessment of the project; full disclosure on the proposal from the developer and any third parties on information such as exact turbine locations and sight lines; and for the province to become “the gatekeeper” on industrial wind projects, creating guidelines governing things like setbacks, noise standards, protection of sightlines and environmental habitats, and potential erosion of property values.
“The province is leaving a lot to the municipalities right now,” said Moffat. “We also think that the municipalities in fairness, are in a bit of a conflict of interest, because this is newfound revenue for revenue-hungry municipalities, who don’t have the depth or access to resources to adequately come up with these reference points and governance.
The majority of the proposed turbines would be located in Cumberland County, with 14 in Colchester County. Cumberland County Council has mandates that all wind turbines must be set back at least 500 metres from dwellings, but that does not go far enough, according to Moffat.
“We think dwellings are the wrong benchmark,” he said. “Whatever the distance, it should be from property lines, not current dwellings, because it doesn’t limit future development.”
On its website, Confederation Power said it will easily meet the minimum setback and that “audible effects from the wind farm are expected to be minimal.”
But Moffat and the other concerned residents are not convinced. They have visited the three existing windmill sites and tested the noise levels themselves, he said, walking as far away as 900 metres upwind from the turbines and still hearing the noise. Society member Diane Powell said she lives more than four kilometers away from one of the turbines and can hear it from her yard. “These are smaller (than the turbines to be constructed in the future) and there are only three,” said Moffat.
“What’s going to happen when you start stacking one on top of the other and get 66, and go downwind? The unique thing here is the topography of the Wentworth Valley, in that sound travels far. For example, you can hear a train a long time before it arrives. Low sounds travel long distances, and the low thumping sounds of those windmills will go a long way down that valley.[“]
The company held an open house for residents last August, and claims on its website to have already addressed a number of concerns, i.e. it has increased its minimum setback distance by 25 per cent; and eliminated a turbine close to residences in Wentworth Station. It is planning another open house for the coming summer.
The society is hoping to arrange a meeting between its executive members and representatives from 3G Energy Corp, an Ottawa-based renewable energy project consultant that built the Higgins Mountain farm for Confederation Power, and is willing to travel to Ottawa to meet with them, according to Moffat.
3G General Manager Graham Findlay would only refer inquiries to the company’s website for information on the project. “We are scheduling face-to-face discussions with the folks who are concerned about this project in the next several weeks,” he said.
Moffat reiterated that they are not against wind power in general, but want to make sure these projects are handled properly. He said they feel, in a way, that they are doing the work of the government.
“We tried to come up with a position not overly aggressive, and that the developer can hopefully deal with,” he said. “There is a lot of unoccupied space up there between us and the next person. We don’t want to push it into someone else’s view plane, but I think there’s enough room up there that it can be acceptable and please everyone. It’s not all about aesthetics, it’s about doing it right.”
By Andrew Wagstaff
26 January 2008
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