Proposed regional wind energy policies could kill plans for Niagara Region’s own wind farm, private partner Tom Rankin says.
Council voted last year to spend $4 million on a five-turbine, 10-megawatt commercial wind farm in partnership with St. Catharines-based Rankin Construction.
The $23-million project in Wainfleet is supposed to start turning air into energy by 2010.
But new wind energy rules suggested for Niagara could jeopardize the wind farm – or any new local wind project, Rankin told regional councillors this week.
“These policies could render our own project uneconomical. It’s complete nonsense,” a visibly upset Rankin said.
“This would be one of the toughest bylaws in Canada … this seems like it’s aimed at discouraging wind power in the Niagara Peninsula.”
The Region wants to promote wind energy in Niagara, according to planning director David Farley.
But Farley said the Region has to balance the benefits of wind development with safety considerations and potential agricultural impacts.
Chief among Rankin’s concerns are two regional recommendations:
• Requiring turbine power cables to be buried underground;
• Requiring large-scale windmills to be set back from all roads by at least the height of the turbine.
Farley said safety was a paramount consideration in setting the distance from the road. Planners looked at falling ice, visual distraction and even extremely rare structural collapse.
“We had to look at what would happen if one fell over. It has happened,” Farley said.
He said planners “struggled” with the setback limit, researching several Ontario projects with differing rules.
The province is still working on its own setback limit for highways, he said, but suggested to Niagara a distance of 1.25-times the height of the turbine. (The height of a turbine includes the tip of the highest blade.)
“We ultimately looked at a compromise,” Farley said.
But Rankin argued other jurisdictions differentiate between heavily travelled highways and little-used roads.
“I have no problem with setbacks of 150 metres from the QEW,” he said.
“But with our property, we’re talking about a dirt road and a couple of unopened road allowances.”
Rankin said from the beginning he’s planned a 60-metre setback from the road for his approximately 100-metre turbines.
Changing those plans would require new bore holes and expensive site redesigning, he said.
Rankin also doesn’t understand why his transmission cables need to be buried, estimating the requirement would triple his connection costs.
Those cables will eventually hook into overhead electrical lines that already exist along the roadway, he noted.
“If you’re going to make me bury my lines, make everyone bury their lines,” he said.
In a regional report, Farley noted all wind projects researched by staff had buried their cables.
Councillors at a public works meeting Thursday voted to defer a decision on the controversial wind energy policies until more information is gathered.
It’s still unclear whether the new policies would apply to projects already underway.
Rankin said if the policies are approved, he hopes his partnership with the Region “will be grandfathered.”
“I’m confident we’ll come to some sort of accommodation,” he said.
“But I hope they don’t go through. It seems to me they’re anti-renewable energy.”
By Matthew Van Dongen, Standard Staff
3 April 2008
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