March 18, 2011

Quebec approves rural wind farm

By William Marsden, The Gazette, 18 March 2011

‘Lack of democracy’; About 50 per cent of citizens oppose project

The Quebec government has authorized the building of 50 giant wind turbines in one of the province’s more historically unique and picturesque rural communities, where about 50 per cent of the citizens opposed the project.

The government this week approved the wind farm despite opposition from the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, which ruled last year that the project will be too disruptive for the environment and the lives of local villagers while creating few economic benefits.

Michel Vachon, president of a local community group called the Regroupement pour le developpement durable des Appalaches, said the government “remains insensitive to the people of the area who are being sacrificed in order to maintain a Gaspé factory.” He was referring to a Danish company that will make the windmill blades for the project at its plant in Matane.

“Every step of the process has been marked by a lack of democracy,” Vachon said.

His group is before the Quebec Court of Appeals trying to stop the wind farm. Residents opposed to it are spending about $100,000 on the case, according to their spokesperson Claude Charron.

The wind farm, which is estimated to cost $421 million, is to be built in the Chaudière-Appalaches region between Victoriaville and Thetford Mines, a 50-square-kilometre area of small farms, pristine villages, small businesses and boutique cheese makers.

The 50 wind turbines will be constructed on the region’s forested hill tops and will have a total installed capacity of 100 megawatts, but an efficiency of only 35 per cent. This is enough to supply power to about 16,000 homes.

The project has divided the community between those who will benefit financially from the windmills and those who wish to preserve the rural landscape.

The landowners who signed contracts to permit windmills on their property will earn $8,000 a year in rent. About 80 per cent of these landowners do not live in the area, Charron said.

“They will benefit financially but won’t have to live with the wind turbines,” he said.

Many of these landowners were secretly signed up by a company called Eolectric Inc., which is partially owned by a Luxembourg company. Eolectric then sold to a second company called Geil Electric, which in turn sold the project to the current owners, a Spanish company called Enerfin, which will build the wind farm.

Obtaining the permission of local landowners is the key to a project’s success. Aside from the blight on the landscape, one major fear is that the swish of the windmills will make it difficult for people to sleep, Charron said.

The local regional municipality will reap $100,000 a year in revenues from the project.

“The Chaudière-Appalaches can be proud to welcome a clean and renewable energy project and be part of Quebec’s program to invest in sustainable development,” said Laurent Lessard, the minister responsible for the region.

The project is part of Quebec’s goal of creating 4,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2015, which would make up about 10 per cent of the province’s installed capacity.

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