As Council and residents debate the pros and cons of wind power, The Chronicle interviewed two officials from Nextera Energy, one of the three companies currently negotiating with the County to construct wind turbines in Haldimand.
In an attempt to address protests by Wind Concerns, a local group which recently carried homemade signs to Council, and others, Josie Hernandez, Sr. Media Relations Specialist and Ben Greenhouse, Director of Development, presented their case for proceeding with the proposal.
Hernandez maintains that while Haldimand is reluctant, other communities across North America are embracing wind power.
“We’re seeing the resistance here while some communities are relishing it because it adds to the balance of utilizing them (turbines) as an economic benefit,” she stated. “There’s always going to be a fear of the unknown.”
A major concern is the lack of control municipalities are given regarding placement of turbines.
According to Greenhouse, “The concern the County has is that our renewable energy projects were exempted from the Planning Act, so they don’t have the powers they used to have. That’s not our decision. That’s the province. We certainly understand the moratorium,” by Haldimand Council, he added. “It’s happened in other towns in Ontario. It’s an understandable concern. The power has been taken away” from municipalities.
Since 2007, he added, “Nextera has met with the County and met and complied with any guidelines. We’re talking about 56 turbines from our company, combined with Samsung and Capital Power for a total of about 180 in Haldimand. Between the companies that worked on this project, we’ve had four community meetings to hear feedback. We have 23,000 acres of land under option to develop turbines and of those, we will narrow it down. That amount of land was voted by residents to be used for this purpose.”
Hernandez characterized the meetings as being “almost entirely positive,” with the most recent occurring in January.
“There may have been one or two people who expressed concerns,” she noted, “and it’s been increasing as time goes on. People have concerns about aesthetics and from a safety point of view, we assure you that our setback distances in Ontario are among the most stringent in the world. We have more than 9,000 of these things working in North America, and generally, we are very well-received in all the communities.”
Nextera Energy began developing in Canada in 2006, but has been around for about 25 years in total, she said.
“We’re the largest in North America and we’re among the most ethical in the world according to Ethisphere (magazine). It’s just harvesting clean air.”
Their steel wind turbines measure 80 metres in height to the centre of the blade. Rotors are 101 metres long, and each blade measures 50 metres, making turbines 130 metres from the ground to the tip of the highest blade when in motion.
“The industry is moving to higher towers, but over the last four or five years, we’ve found that 80 metres have been the best for us,” said Greenhouse.
“Each (turbine) has a ladder for access with rest stops along the way. We start with the foundation and it’s put together in a day.”
Using an assembly line approach, a crew lays the cables and foundations before trucks deliver the towers. Rotors are assembled on the ground and lifted to the top. Computers automatically control each turbine, turning the nacelle and rotor (three blades and a hub) to face into the wind. Rotors turn at 11 to 22 revolutions per minute, with pitch of the rotor blade adjusted to suit changes in wind speed. For safety purposes, the turbine shuts down automatically if the wind speed exceeds 88 km per hour.
The blades turn a main shaft, which spins a generator that makes electricity. The electricity is cabled down the tower, then through underground collection lines to the main substation, where voltage is increased and delivered to the electric grid.
Participating landowners are paid annually, said Hernandez.
“While all of our landowners are paid the same amount, the payments do vary throughout the province and from company to company.”
Some “obvious” safety concerns, stated Greenhouse, “would be things like ice throw or a blade flying off, and those are exceedingly rare,” since turbines shut down if any problems occur, “plus the setbacks are so stringent.”
He contends that studies have shown no evidence linking wind turbines to human health issues.
The province of Ontario has decreed that turbines be placed 550 metres from residences, and must meet a limit of 40 decibels, “and that will sometimes push you back there up to 700 metres.”
“I’m certainly no expert. If you put one too close to someone’s house, it will be loud. Our internal best practices say to place them at 400 feet, which is a little closer. We don’t believe it will have any issues. Certainly people who are sensitive to noise may be at risk.”
Shadow flicker, a term used to describe the shadow effect of moving turbines experienced by some landowners “should never be at a rate that’s enough to trigger epilepsy,” added Greenhouse.
Blocking the turbines’ path with awnings or trees can prevent shadow flicker.
“It comes down to annoyance. It’s relatively easy to predict because of the sun’s position. We did shadow flicker models at open houses. There’s no standard in Ontario but I think we can say there are no health risks. We’re talking in the tens of hours per year, distributed over the course of the year, a few minutes at a time.”
Both Nextera officials emphasized their goal of maintaining a long-term relationship with landowners and other residents.
“We’re going to be here 20 to 30 years, so it’s in our best interest to keep a good relationship” with the County and its citizens, said Hernandez.
“We don’t want any unhappy landowners so we will certainly investigate any problems and we have a team who will come 24-7. We’re very interested in ensuring it’s in good repair and making sure there are phone numbers available so we can look after them (turbines). We’re continuing to work with the County and local staff to keep the lines of communications open.”
Part of her role includes installing information kiosks where students and adults can “learn about wind energy and understand how they work because people are interested in how wind energy is being harnessed in their own back yard,” she said. “We have set up in various regions our kiosks, which show how they work and how they benefit our energy supply and how it benefits the local region. Chambers add it to their tour lists and embrace what this type of energy is doing.”
Greenhouse said that Norfolk County built an interpretive centre for the Erie Shores Farms project.
While wind power plants only generate electricity when the wind blows, “The thing people often miss is that the whole electricity system is about balancing supply and demand,” he stated. “Coal and gas plants are there to ramp up and meet changes in the demand.”
“We’ve certainly learned a lot in 25 years,” said Hernandez. “The technology is getting better and better, and we have an amazing team of people who make sure we’re operating these turbines with the best of form. We have an amazing relationship with suppliers and we see them evolving here in Canada and the U.S.”
Nextera’s team includes archaeologists and scientists to support the environment.
“As an industry, we have also learned to understand the flight path of birds,” noted Greenhouse. “We have been studying the bird paths around here (Haldimand) since 2007.” In some cases, “We have left areas because of our early stage analysis and concerns around wildlife and other issues”.
Asked how long it would take to get Haldimand’s wind power plant up and running, if approved, “We could build this project in four or five months,” he said. “We’re faster than most because we’ve done it so long. Last year, we built 700 megawatts of wind and the year before that, 1,100 megawatts, so Haldimand residents can take comfort in the fact that if anyone knows how to do this, it’s us. We think it’s important for people to educate themselves but that involves taking a look at it and thinking critically about it. We would like to make it easier for people to find the facts.”
Hernandez urged people to check out the company’s website (www.nexteraenergyresources.com) as well as www.canadianwindproposals.com to access further information and studies.
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