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Wind farm developer eyes Canaan Mountain

SOUTHAMPTON – A bid to introduce a wind farm near Canaan Mountain is not a hostile intrusion on nature to harness the wind and walk away. According to Halifax’s Shear Wind it’s an exercise in preservation, co-operation and respect.

Founded in 2005, Shear Wind’s latest success story is the Glen Dhu wind farm, serving Pictou and Antigonish counties with 62.1 megawatts. On the financial end, it’s providing $750,000 in annual revenues in taxes and royalties to the counties and employing 55 local companies during the construction phase but president and CEO Mick Magnus wanted to set the tone during a public hearing session at the Southampton Community Centre that building a wind farm begins with identifying the virtues of an area and then building with those resources in mind, whether its preserving wetlands, hiring locally, or preserving history.

“I believe when you come into an area you become part of that community,” Magnus said.

The Canaan Mountain project borders between what are considered Class 2 and Class 3 winds – not optimum speeds but new technologies allow for either to be harnessed very efficiently, Magnus says, making for what he thinks will become the province’s premiere sweetheart wind farm.

Getting there, however, begins with rediscovering this corner of Cumberland County and the role Mother Nature plays.

“We’ve started to do an environmental assessment of birds and bats back in June and July,” environment expert Rob McCullum said. “We initially thought there would be a large migration but they’re staying to the valleys, so that was a surprise.”

While the intent is to stay away from wetlands, studies are also being done and the community is playing their part in educating Shear Wind about local wildlife.

“Public consultation is huge. It’s not just talking to you. It’s talking to hunters, knocking on doors. We have to determine the number of moose in the area; assess vegetation in the area to ensure no species at risk will be affected and the local hunters know more about the local moose population than the Department (of Environment) does.”

Shear Wind has to assure the government it has done its homework when applying to the province’s next Request For Proposals. That also includes a traditional knowledge study by the Mi’Kmaq for the area.

If successful, the project could receive the green light as early as next fall, meaning jobs for local tradespeople and contracts for local businesses.

“We like to hire from the local community… if we can find the expertise here,” Magnus said. “Local is local. Right here.”

The project could see between 75 and 100 people hired during the first phase of construction. Pending the initial study and results of the RFP, 15 to 30 turbines could be built, meaning existing roads will be upgraded, above ground electrical distribution and transmission lines will be introduced as well as a substation.

The nut of the project, however, hinges on public acceptance.

“If the public is not happy with it it’s going nowhere,” McCullum said.

For the most part, the community appears to be on the fence, says local businessman Scott McKee.

Owner of the Southampton Service Centre, McKee’s business is a hub for local talk. Whether it’s getting a Motor Vehicle Inspection done, grabbing a pop or chips or just popping in for idle chit chat, McKee’s business is a good place to get the pulse of the community and the general consensus hangs on Shear Wind’s success during the RFP process.

“Everybody knows another source of energy has to happen but I think everyone is waiting to see whether they get the approval to go ahead,” McKee said.

That’s not to say the community is ignoring the work already done locally and elsewhere.

“The big talk is about the wind farm in Amherst and what’s happening there,” McKee said.

In his experience, when the people of Southampton aren’t persuaded one way or another on an issue, it’s a clear indication they are keeping an open mind about the project as developments unfold.