A renewable energy company that is hoping to build a wind farm on the Tantramar Marsh in Aulac is still working to get the project off the ground.
Acciona Wind Energy Canada Inc. was expected to be well under way by now on its proposed 43-turbine wind farm on the marsh but permitting delays, the economic recession and the need for further bird studies have led to setbacks in the project.
Annie Callan, development manager for the Aulac wind farm project, said Acciona is continuing to look for financial backers for the project and has put out another RFP for a power purchase agreement.
She explained that the company, due to all the delays, missed the deadline to access Eco-Energy funds and therefore has been released from the power purchase agreement that was made with NB Power nearly three years ago.
But Callan said these types of delays are the norm in the industry and Acciona isn’t giving up on the idea of building the 64.5-megawatt wind power facility.
“The Aulac wind power project is a very valuable project for Acciona,” she said during a presentation she made to town council last Monday night.
Acciona was granted a certificate of determination from New Brunswick’s Department of Environment last January, said Callan, which basically gives the company approval for the project as long as certain regulatory conditions are met first.
One of those conditions involves a two-year avian study, a review that looks at the potential disruption of migration routes and the impacts of the turbines on the bird and bat populations.
Acciona’s environmental manager Sylvie St.-Jean said the most recent day-long surveys conducted along the proposed route detected 61 species in the area, although the two most common, the European Sterling and the Canada Goose, made up 90 per cent of those sightings.
St.-Jean said 80 per cent of the birds in the survey were flying below the height of the rotor.
But she explained that the company will put into place an avian and bat protection plan if the project goes ahead, as per corporate policy.
“Each time there’s a collision, we would investigate what happened and how it can be avoided,” she said.
“We’re always looking at ways to avoid and minimize impacts as well as monitor and report mortality.”
Acciona is also continuing to gauge community support for the wind farm, an approach that Callan says helps engage the public in feeling ownership for the project.
She says there are plenty of benefits to wind farms, including it being a clean, renewable source of energy that helps combat global climate change. The project would also bring jobs, although many of them short-term, use local goods and services, provide royalties to landowners and supplement farmers’ incomes.
“These consistent revenues from wind farms can sometimes make the difference between saving the family farm or not,” said Callan.
And local resident Karen Trueman would tend to agree.
Trueman, who said she was speaking on behalf of the landowners who would benefit from the royalties, many of them farmers, said she’s disappointed with the opposition that has been voiced for the project.
“When the prospect of a wind farm loomed on our horizon, it seemed like this was a win-win situation for everyone in the area and should elicit the general approval, if not jubilation, of area residents,” she said during the council meeting last week.
With the benefits of extra provincial tax revenues, improved incomes for landowners and local businesses, guaranteed green energy, and an additional source of revenue for “financially-strapped farmers,” Trueman said she believes the wind farm would be an economic driver that could lead to further development.
“So we have been mystified by the very conscious and persistent effort to derail this project by several individuals and remove all these benefits from their neighbours, community and province.”
Trueman pointed out that wind power has become a cost-effective green alternative to the other energy options available and has the potential to stimulate the local rural economy.
“The landowners who are part of this project need this wind farm to become a reality,” she said. “They have been exceptional stewards of their land over many decades, and are well able to make responsible decisions on their own. They have the right to decide their future and to optimize the use of their land and should not have to plead their case to anyone.”
But Sackville resident Eugene Goodrich isn’t so convinced that the Tantramar marsh is the best place to build a wind farm. In fact, Goodrich questioned Callan why Acciona would choose to build in a location that was a busy bird migration route, an archeological site, a potential flood zone, and a heritage landscape that area residents value.
“There are lots of places nearby that would be better than this . . . is this an appropriate place to have it?” he asked.
Callan responded by saying there are a lot of considerations that are taken into account when selecting a site for a wind farm, from initial preliminary site studies to environmental assessments to wind suitability.
She said the ground studies and the bird studies that have been completed have not revealed any reasons for Acciona to pull out of the project.
“From our perspective, it’s a great spot for a wind farm,” she said.
And she pointed out that most of the feedback from area residents has been positive.
“From our experiences, we’ve enjoyed a lot of community support so far.”
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