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Wind debate blows into Bluewater

Members and supporters of Bluewater Against Turbines (BAT) packed the council gallery to standing-room only last week for a plea from the group’s president that council fight for the health and safety of its residents and lobby for longer setbacks from homes than the current 550 metres.

“We do not want these turbines – we don’t want them ever, to be quite frank,” stressed BAT president Dave Griffiths. “And if this so-called government-for-the-people manages to shove them down our throats, as they seem to be so good at, I am asking our council to please, please ask for longer setbacks from your citizens.”

Griffiths’s delegation at Bluewater council last Monday came on the heels of a presentation from employees of NextEra Energy Canada, which is developing two wind energy projects that, if approved by the Ministry of Environment next year, would see about 60 turbines erected in Bluewater.

Mayor Bill Dowson, deputy mayor Paul Klopp and Hay East Councillor John Becker declared conflicts of interest and didn’t participate in discussions.

Like neighbouring anti-turbine groups Central Huron Against Turbines and Huron East Against Turbines, Griffiths’s deputation criticized the provincial Liberals for their handling of the Green Energy Act, outlined several European countries’ wind-farm failures economically, and implored council to be cognizant that signing lease agreements with a developer pits “family member against family member, neighbour against neighbour,” while causing unrelenting civil unrest.

In July, NextEra received feed-in-tariff contracts, which authorize the company to sell power to the grid, for the 60 megawatt, 37 turbine Bluewater Wind Energy Centre and the Goshen Wind Energy Centre project, described as a 102 megawatt project with 63 turbines, one third of which will be located in Bluewater.

At this stage, project director Nicole Geneau and community relations consultant Derek Dudek visited council for a project update in advance of three public meetings scheduled for the first week in December. A drop-in centre will be held at the Zurich Community Centre on Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. A public meeting will be held Dec. 7 in Varna that will focus on the Goshen project, which extends into South Huron. The next day, on Dec. 8, a third meeting will run in Seaforth to discuss the Bluewater project, which needs a transmission line running through Huron East to Seaforth’s transition station.

“This past summer, we also reached out to a number of local community organizations, and we’ve been making presentations to local chambers of commerce,” Geneau said. “We’ve been trying to take that feedback into account in our project design.”

She said a draft layout that will include the locations of turbines will be available to the public the first week of December. The Ministry of Environment mandates a certain number of public meetings must be held during the renewable energy approval (REA) process. NextEra has hosted extra consultation sessions, such as meeting with chambers of commerce and the all-day Dec. 6 session, that are optional, Geneau noted.

If the Ministry of Environment issues the company renewable energy approvals, which are expected next year, construction should begin in spring 2013. The turbines will then be operational before the end of that year.

According to Geneau, the projects will create about 400 temporary construction jobs – positions NextEra will be looking to fill locally. Once the turbines go online, 14 to 18 permanent jobs in operations and management will be retained with an operations centre located either in Bluewater or South Huron, Geneau said.

She added that the construction teams will benefit the local economy by frequenting restaurants and auto shops, among others.

Because Bluewater will see less than half of the estimated $148,000 NextEra assumes it will pay in taxes on the turbines each year (the rest goes to the province and county) the company will commit to a community vibrancy fund for such things as recreational activities, tourism, and community projects to be controlled by Bluewater. Geneau said the company is looking to contribute about $3,500 per megawatt and $5,000 per kilometre of transmission line that’s located underneath public spaces. Based on those figures, NextEra would pay Bluewater as much as $435,500 annually.

During question period, Hay West Coun. John Gillespie said anecdotal evidence is circulating that property values decrease in areas with wind turbines. He asked how landowners and the municipality would be compensated if turbines drove house values down.

Studies have shown agricultural property values in southwestern Ontario are actually increasing despite turbines being erected, Geneau countered.

She said property value reductions aren’t the company’s responsibility and that NextEra hasn’t experienced declining land values near any of its turbines.

“Right. But that’s not to say they won’t, and that’s not to say that you shouldn’t have any contingency plan in place in case they do,” Gillespie said. “But I think we’ve gotten your response, which is it’s not your problem.”

On the issue of the costs of decommissioning a turbine once it’s reached its end of life, Zurich Coun. Janisse Zimmerman asked how Bluewater can ensure NextEra will remove the turbines.

Decommissioning is one of four reports the developing company includes in its REA application, and is a legal document, Geneau said, adding that it’s written into lease contracts with landowners that they won’t be responsible for paying for them to be dismantled.

Coun. Zimmerman, however, didn’t appear to be convinced.

“It’s great to have reports expressing what’s going to be done and how you’re going to do it, but how do we guarantee it? What happens if you don’t carry through with anything?” she questioned. “I’m sure your contract would be cancelled by the province, but you come to the end of the contract, you don’t need it anymore, other than the farmers or the municipality suing you, how do we guarantee you do what you say you’re going to do?”

CAO recruitment

Bluewater council voted to hire municipal consultant Nigel Bellchamber to recruit its next chief administrative officer.

Former CAO Lori Wolfe announced her resignation two weeks ago.

Bellchamber has estimated his costs would be between $12,000 and $18,000, which includes, among other preparation work, narrowing applicants down to a shortlist; leading the interview process with council; and assisting council in selecting its first choice.

Retaining a consultant to assist in the recruitment of a new CAO is in accordance with the municipal hiring policy, a report from Wolfe said.

Council appointed mayor Bill Dowson, deputy mayor Paul Klopp, Councillor-at-large Tyler Hessel, Stanley West Coun. George Irvin and Hensall Coun. Kay Wise to the hiring committee, which will work with Bellchamber to shortlist applicants and bring them before all councillors to be interviewed.

Lakeshore sewer project referendum

Bluewater councillors have committed to holding a referendum on the lakeshore sewage collection project when government funding becomes available.

Because the project is currently too costly for residents, engineering consultants Bill Boussey and Janet Smolders have advised council not to start bringing sewers up Highway 21 until significant government funding becomes available.

During council’s Nov. 21 meeting, deputy mayor Paul Klopp argued that affected Hay West residents should still have a say even if grants come up.

He said a report on the logistics of a plebiscite was supposed to come from staff some time ago. Since it hasn’t, he said he wanted his motion “on the record.”

It passed unanimously.