A decision from Chatham- Kent council to boost the turbine setbacks near shorelines had wind energy officials shaking their heads on Tuesday.
Councillors made the changes during the previous night’s meeting after a spirited debate.
Jay Wilgar, AIM Powergen’s vice-president of field operations, said the company is determining exactly what this could mean for its proposals, in particular, its Erieau-Blenheim project.
“We’ve been spending the day trying to figure out how we’re going to react to this whole thing,” he said. “It’s going to have a negative impact on our project.
“As far as right now, we’ve lost at least 12 turbines out of the design. Two of our farmers lost all of the turbines (slated) for their properties.”
On Monday, Tom Storey, of Storey Samways Planning, presented the proposed standards, which were recommended by Environment Canada.
However, North Kent Coun. Bill Weaver suggested increasing the Lake St. Clair setback from 500 metres to one kilometre; Lake Erie’s from 200 metres to 400 metres; and Rondeau Bay from 500 metres to one kilometre.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman added another successful amendment that all of Lake Erie be one kilometre – whether or not Rondeau Bay was concerned.
Sulman’s amendment to increase the setback from settlement areas from 600 metres to one kilometre was defeated.
Wilgar believes council should have trusted staff’s judgment on the matter of the shorelines.
“The Rondeau Bay one we were fine with,” he said. “But when they went to 1,000 (metres) around all of Lake Erie, it had a pretty dramatic impact.”
He said councillors should have provided more of a rationale for their figures.
“I think it would have been a lot easier to swallow,” he said. “To make these kind of decisions, that are really based on nothing, that’s where it’s very frustrating.”
Wilgar said the next step is to perform a redesign of the project. However, he hopes to work with council in the future to see if there is any way to compromise for certain turbines.
“The issue is that we’re running out of time,” he said.
Paul Merkur is president of Gengrowth, which has four projects that received zoning approval in April.
Gengrowth and Kruger Energy weren’t impacted by the recent change, since they already had approvals and were therefore grandfathered in.
“(But) we wouldn’t have been affected by that, because I think the closest turbine we had to the lake was about 1.3, 1.4 kilo-metres,” Merkur said. “I don’t think it’s too detrimental, but I can’t speak for other projects.”
Merkur said having three or four-kilometre setbacks would have been far less feasible.
However, he said wind companies want to know what the rules for consistency, so time and money aren’t wasted.
“Some of the difficulty is around certainty,” Merkur said. “(If) you’ve been developing a project over a number of years using existing setbacks, then a year or two later the setbacks all change, that can be difficult.”
Merkur wasn’t surprised at council’s action, given the strong public opinion on each side of the issue, and called the measures “workable.”
Weaver said the successful amendments were realistic and a reasonable compromise.
“I would expect the residents who essentially say they don’t want wind power to say it’s not enough and I would expect the companies to want as few rules as possible,” he said.
Weaver said his view was partly a response to what shoreline residents have told him in the past.
He said the idea of one kilometre wasn’t arbitrary, but rather a doable number.
“I hesitated when I was doing it, because I’ve always wanted to have it based on some kind of science,” he said. “I felt the best we could do was double that safety factor. If we multiplied it by 10, there was no way we could support it.”
Chatham Coun. Steve Pickard voted against the change, saying he wanted to see justification for the new numbers.
He said it isn’t enough to simply call them “realistic.”
“Obviously that’s going to impact anybody financially that’s been prospecting,” he said. “We’ve definitely thrown them a bit of a curveball.”
Pickard believes the original recommendations were well-researched, taking into account wind companies and the community. However, he doesn’t believe now is the time to look back, saying all major issues have been addressed.
“It’s nice for us to have set a direction and move on,” he said. “Let’s get back to business.”
By Trevor Terfloth
23 July 2008
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