The fight over wind turbines near Belwood is back, but this time it’s a different company bringing the issue to town – bringing a lot of upset residents with it.
Several hundred people showed up at the Centre Wellington Sportsplex on Tuesday, Oct. 26, to protest the public information meeting hosted there by wpd Canada. At issue is wpd’s proposed Springwood Wind Project, a four-turbine array that is planned for the area east of Fergus and north-east of Belwood. More specifically, the project would be bounded by Sideroad 20 to the northwest, Wellington Road 16 to the northeast, the Second Line to the southwest and Sideroad 15 to the southeast. It would include a connection point along Wellington Road 29, likely at the Fergus transformer station.
The suggested turbines are REpower MM92’s, measuring at 100 metres tall with a blade length of just over 45 metres. Kevin Surette, a wpd Canada spokesman, said the estimated output of the project is 23,829,000 kilowatt hours per year, equal to the annual power use of 1,980 homes.
“We have secured enough land to allow us to place four turbines, taking into account minimum setbacks for noise, property lines, and the natural features and sensitive water bodies of the study area,” Surette said. “The estimated life expectancy of this project is 20 years, and contracts with landowners are signed for the duration of the project.”
The group in opposition to Springwood is the same one that rose up against Invenergy last spring – Oppose Belwood Wind Farm Association. Spokeswoman Laura Humphrey said the similarities between Springwood and the Belwood project brought forward by Invenergy are evident.
“Both projects would put residents and the community at significant risk, and we are strongly opposing both,” she said. “The wpd project is different in that the company has a power contract with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), whereas Invenergy doesn’t have a contract at this time. Now, wpd needs a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the Ministry of the Environment to move forward.”
Surette said that wpd has made sure the setbacks outlined by provincial regulations have been followed in their proposal – 550 metres from a residence, provided the noise level at the residence doesn’t exceed 40 decibels. Setbacks from livestock barns or storage facilities aren’t specified in the Green Energy Act (GEA), but Surette said they would come in to play depending on property lines. But with at least one other turbine array proposed for the area – the Invenergy proposal – he did say there are some considerations there.
“There is no minimum distance required by the GEA and regulations, however from a design perspective we like to keep some distance between wind turbines for optimal output, based on wind direction,” he said.
Stefan Preisenhammer was among the residents at the protest and meeting, and he made no secret of how upset he was about the idea of this proposal. His family lives on Second Line north of Sideroad 20, and he’s beside himself because of his home’s proximity to the proposed Springwood array.
“Once they have their foot in the door, everyone else around will give up,” he said. “We’ll have to pay for this for 20 years. Denmark has had a higher percentage of turbines in their country, but they’ve admitted that after 25 years they made a mistake. We’re running toward this with open eyes, and there’s no way back on this.”
While the project specs are only calling for four turbines at the current time, Preisenhammer said that only opens the door for more to be built.
“Once they start, people just give up fighting them,” he said. “I tell people to go to Shelburne and spend a week in an abandoned house – they’ll see the effect these things have on people then.”
Humphrey said the primary goal of the protest was to demonstrate to Ontario environment minister John Wilkinson how overwhelmingly opposed to the project people in the Belwood area are, as well as to show wpd’s lack of regard for the community’s legitimate concerns.
“Under the GEA as it stands, communities are forced to bear the costs and risks of industrial wind farms but they aren’t meaningfully involved in any decisions about the project,” she said. “Yet Minister Wilkinson has commented previously that municipalities have to sign off on the project before it can be approved. He keeps flip-flopping on what he means by that, so we will see if he keeps his word.”
The next step for the Oppose Belwood Wind Farm Association is to carry on with their fight at the political, regulatory and legal levels. Humphrey is confident the momentum built on the October 26 protest will give them a big push forward.
“The wpd Canada project is not good for the energy system or the environment, and this community does not accept the tremendous risks we would have to bear as a result of this project,” she said.
A draft REA report is due to the public on Springwood by spring 2011, with a second open house to be held in conjunction with that report. Pending an REA approval by the fall of 2011, Springwood would begin construction in spring 2012.
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