West Grey council wants to be ready to deal with a wind energy development that is quietly progressing without further public input or consultation with the municipality.
“Right now we have some indication that NextEra may be going forward with their proposal which we saw two years ago. But from a municipal standpoint we’re no further ahead or haven’t had any more information from NextEra really than what we had two years ago,” Mayor Kevin Eccles said during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday.
Earlier this year company officials said they were moving ahead with plans to develop a wind energy farm after having received approval from the Ontario Power Authority under the province’s Feed in Tariff program to connect to the hydro grid.
NextEra Canada is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC of Juno Beach, Fla. The company operates approximately 85 industrial wind turbine projects in 17 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces with more than 9,000 wind turbines that produce 8,300 megawatts of electricity. In Ontario eight company projects have received OPA approval.
The East Durham project, which was started in 2006 before the advent of the Green Energy Act in 2009, is to be built in an area bounded on the north by Con. 4 of the former Glenelg Township and by Southline to the south, by Sideroad 50 on the east and Camp Oliver Rd. to the west.
The project calls for 23 megawatts of electricity and would consist of either 14 turbines with a rating of 1.6 megawatts each or 10 turbines at 2.3 megawatts each, depending on the technology chosen for the project.
Among the topics that dominated Monday’s meeting were how to deal with rescues and fire suppression atop the 20-storey wind turbines, possible effects of heavy equipment on municipal roads and bridges during the construction phase, and public consultation.
West Grey Fire Chief Phil Schwartz said his department doesn’t have the training or capacity to deal with a fire or rescue higher than 55 feet in the air. His volunteers are not trained in confined space rescue or high-angle rescue.
He noted that the Owen Sound fire department has the capability to reach up to 110 feet.
“There’s nothing in the mutual aid agreement about high-angle rescue,” he said.
The only people trained with that capability are members of the Toronto fire department’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team. But it would take more than three hours for them to arrive if they were available.
Schwartz said he’s never received any request by NextEra to provide fire suppression and rescue service.
“I’m assuming they have their own stuff . . . they can’t expect volunteer firefighters to climb up there,” he said.
Coun. John Eccles said it’s not the municipality’s responsibility to provide a service that it doesn’t have and that should be made clear to NextEra.
“We don’t have any responsibility to provide fire suppression or rescue to wind turbines. We don’t have fire protection. We need to make that clear,” he said.
But Coun. Mark Rapke countered by saying it would be unfair to single out wind turbines. He asked about rescues from farm silos or tall industrial structures.
Schwartz said none of the silos are as high as the wind turbines and many of the industrial structures have catwalks inside or ladders that firefighters can use to get to the top.
“I’d like to see something legal that says we are not responsible,” said Coun. Carol Lawrence.
Josie Hernandes, the company’s senior media relations spokesperson, said there are a number of constraints that the project must meet before it receives government approval, including noise requirements, and setbacks from houses, natural features, wetlands and watercourses.
“The Feed in Tariff contract is a contract to sell our power. We still have to get all of the approvals from the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of the Environment, the conservation authority. We’re still in the process of doing that,” she said in an interview in September.
Construction could begin as soon as next summer with a startup date in 2013, company spokesperson Laura Cantave, director of the East Durham project, said during a mid-September interview.
Another concern raised by councillors and the mayor at Monday’s meeting was how and when NextEra would carry out its responsibility under the Green Energy Act to consult twice with the municipality before starting construction. The company held a town hall style meeting a couple of years ago to provide basic information about the project and answer questions from the public.
Cantave predicted that the next public information meeting will be held by next summer, once the studies are completed and the proposed locations for the wind turbines have been determined. In the meantime she indicated that the company is willing to work with the municipality and the community.
“All of the comments that we receive whether through an event we host or an e-mail that we receive we address them and certainly take those concerns into consideration and talk about them . . . so that just because we’re moving ahead doesn’t mean that the public doesn’t have a say. They certainly do. We are absolutely required to respond to every question we receive,” Cantave said.
Once all of the studies are done and the project documents are completed they are made available for public viewing and comment for 60 days. At the end of that period the second public open house would be held, Catave said.
“I would hope they would confer more. There is some concern by council on road agreements, our high angle emergency response and from my understanding all of those have to be addressed when and if the company starts consulting with us before their submission to the Ministry of Energy and the MOE would be submitted. And at this point they haven’t even come to us,” Eccles said.
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