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Opposition in air for wind farms

Anger is growing in rural communities south of Montreal over proposals to introduce wind farms in the Montérégie region.

Complicating the political optics is that fact that Hydro-Québec has given preliminary approval to a Kahnawake company to put wind turbines on non-aboriginal land without prior approval from the applicable local municipal council.

The mayors of five large rural municipalities between Montreal and the U.S. border are to hold a regional protesting meeting tomorrow night in Lacolle. One of those municipalities, St. Cyprien de Napierville, held its own local protest meeting last night.

“I would say that the political tension has become pretty severe – especially for people who live near where the wind turbines are supposed to be placed,” said St. Cyprien Mayor André Tremblay. “We are trying to keep people calm. But it is very difficult.”

The discontent in the Montérégie region reflects similar anxieties in other regions of Quebec over the desirability of wind farms. Although wind energy is often seen to be politically correct, many rural residents say the giant turbines are a form of visual pollution for people who have to live near them.

The terms and conditions of Quebec’s emerging new wind-energy policy were set forth in three provincial decrees issued in 2003, 2005 and 2008. The first decree created guidelines for the Gaspé and Lower St. Lawrence regions. The second decree set more general terms for the rest of Quebec. The third decree opened the door to aboriginal participation in wind-energy generation.

As a result of the 2005 decree, a proposed 24-turbine wind farm in the Montérégie municipality of St. Valentin has been given preliminary approval by Hydro-Québec. That proposal, however, did not have aboriginal involvement and it had the blessing of the local municipal council. St. Valentin is the only town in Montérégie that has embraced wind energy.

It’s different story in neighbouring St. Cyprien, however, The company behind the St. Cyprien proposal is a Mohawk firm, Kahnawake Sustainable Energies, and St. Cyprien town council is upset that Hydro gave KSE a preliminary green light two months ago without requiring local council support.

Hydro says it had no choice but to follow the terms and conditions that had been set out by the government in the 2008 decree, as far as public consultation is concerned.

Last night in St. Cyprien, angry farmers protested against the KSE proposal and the 25 electrical pylons that will have to be built in St. Valentin and St. Cyprien to transmit electricity generated by the St. Valentin project. Farmers drove big tractors through town and blared their horns to make their displeasure known.

Tomorrow night, the mayors of St. Cyprien, Lacolle, Saint-Blaise, Saint-Jacques-le-Mineur et de Saint-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix are to attend the rally in Lacolle.

According to St. Cyprien town manager Nancy Trottier, KSE wants to install eight 150 metre-high wind turbines. The Place Ville Marie office tower in downtown Montreal is 188 metres high.

KSE president Bud Morris has been unavailable for comment in recent days. But the company, as well as the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, have told the local Eastern Door newspaper that they are aware of the political challenges for KSE in St. Cyprien.

Now that KSE was given preliminary approval in December, “the work to build and maintain relationships with the citizens and municipal government of St. Cyprien now takes on even greater significant,” MCK economic-development chief John Dee Delormier told the Eastern Door.

It remains to be seen whether formal environmental hearings will have to be held. But final approval from the provincial cabinet and the ministry of energy is necessary before KSE project can become a reality, according to Hydro officials.

Trottier said KSE appears to have signed land-lease agreements with two local farmers for the windmill installation in St. Cyprien. But the overriding issue is whether these two private deals are enough to override the opposition of the local municipal council, said Trottier.

The KSE proposal would create enough energy to power 3,500 homes.