“This just demonstrates they don’t fundamentally respect democracy or the government,” said John Laforet, former president of Wind Concerns Ontario, about Windstream’s announcement. “It’s not a pilot study. It’s (the consortium) saying ‘Give us our taxpayer subsidies and we’ll push whatever paper you want.’ ” “Why would you leave it to the company that wants to build (the wind farm) to do the studies and tell you that everything will be OK?” he asked.
The province is in no rush to approve a massive wind energy project that holds the promise of hundreds of jobs for Hamilton companies.
The Ministry of Energy says a provincial moratorium on wind projects enacted almost a year ago will remain in place until the province is satisfied such projects are safe. It is currently studying an offshore wind turbine development in Sweden and another planned pilot project in Ohio and will not approve any projects in Ontario until results are known, a spokesperson said Wednesday.
Local liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin said the province had good reason to make the move, and Windstream Energy, a Burlington company looking to build the first project in Ontario, will need to prove its case.
McMeekin says he would love to see jobs come to Hamilton as a result of the company’s proposal to erect 100 wind turbines in the eastern end of Lake Ontario near Kingston.
“But we need to create jobs responsibly,” said McMeekin, minister of agriculture and MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.
Windstream announced Wednesday that four local companies – steel fabricators Walter Group, McKeil Marine, Bermingham Foundation Solutions and the Hamilton Port Authority – have been awarded the contracts to construct, assemble, transport and install the giant turbines.
The company says the project is worth $1.5 billion and will generate 1,900 jobs over five years but it’s currently studying just how many of those jobs will land in Hamilton.
There is also no timeline for the project. The province has made no commitment to approve the project and increasingly vocal wind opponents say they will fight it. Even if Windstream got provincial approval for the project tomorrow, it will take five years before any wind turbines spin in Lake Ontario.
Windstream Energy president Ian Baines said Windstream has formally proposed its project to the province as a “test pilot” to deal with health and environmental concerns about offshore wind farms.
“They put the moratorium in place so they could study the science, but of course you need an actual project to study,” he said at a formal announcement Wednesday of the local contracts.
Baines said he understands the “political element” involved in the provincial moratorium, but suggested the province is obligated to allow the project to go ahead eventually. “We have a binding contract with the province of Ontario that requires us to build this project,” he said.
“The election has passed, the government has had a year to think about what it wants to study and we’re offering to do the studies with them,” he added after the announcement.
The consortium is not proposing to build a smaller number of in-water test turbines for the study because it would be too expensive, he said.
“Basically, we’ve said to the government, ‘Whatever you think is required, we will study,’ ” Baines said.
Ministry of Energy spokesperson Jennifer Kett says the province is studying projects elsewhere.
“We are taking a cautious and responsible approach to offshore wind and will work with our U.S. neighbours on research to ensure any future proposed projects protect the environment on both sides of the Great Lakes.”
She said no offshore wind project can proceed without a Renewable Energy Approval and no projects, including Windstream’s, have been approved. The province is no longer accepting applications for offshore wind projects.
Wind power is highly controversial. Its advocates say it’s a clean, safe, reliable source of power that can contribute to reducing oil dependency and the effects of global warming. Its detractors say wind power is unreliable, has great environmental costs and doesn’t produce enough power to justify its costs.
“This just demonstrates they don’t fundamentally respect democracy or the government,” said John Laforet, former president of Wind Concerns Ontario, about Windstream’s announcement. “It’s not a pilot study. It’s (the consortium) saying ‘Give us our taxpayer subsidies and we’ll push whatever paper you want.’ ”
“Why would you leave it to the company that wants to build (the wind farm) to do the studies and tell you that everything will be OK?” he asked.
Laforet said the government needs to bring businesses, residents, environmental groups and academics together to create a terms of reference for an offshore wind study.
“If they actually go ahead with this, the litigation involved will be enormous,” he said. “Residents aren’t just going to let this happen.”
But Blair McKeil, president of McKeil Marine and a member of a manufacturers and suppliers consortium called the Lake Ontario Offshore Network, says the group will step up its fight, too.
“Our next step is to go direct to Queen’s Park and, to best of our ability, raise some awareness about the benefits of this project as a company that’s been in Hamilton for 50 years,” he said. “It’s up to us to make sure this pushes forward.”
Walter Koplar, president of Walters Group, said he believes the project to be clean and green, but acknowledged the province “is in an awkward spot,” given the increasingly loud opposition to industrial wind farms by some lobby groups and residents.
“But I have to think our view will prevail,” he said.
“This is an awesome opportunity for the Liberal government to … fulfil their mandate of moving away from fossil fuel power in this province.”
Mayor Bob Bratina said the project is needed to help “put Hamilton more prominently on the map of industrial innovation and technology.”
He acknowledged council will have to “deal with” its own call for a wind power moratorium sooner rather than later.
“We want to be respectful of everybody’s concerns … certainly they are many and diverse, and some of them are conflicting,” he said.
“But I don’t think that very many of us would want to hold this project back.”
McMeekin says many other jurisdictions are acting with caution on offshore wind power and Ontario should not be pressured into jumping first into the sector solely to gain market advantage.
“This needs to be a ‘do-no-harm,’ ‘abundance-of-caution’ approach,” he said.
“The ministry needs to hold itself with enough assurance that if we do proceed, it’s not in a way that’s detrimental.”
According to the Ministry of Energy, since the creation of the feed-in-tariff program in 2009, wind energy has helped create thousands of jobs in the province.
There are now more than 1,000 land-based turbines installed in Ontario, producing approximately 1,600 MW of energy, enough to power 450,000 homes.
How many jobs and when would they come?
President Blair McKeil estimated he’ll need up to 100 new workers at McKeil Marine to help transport the massive steel turbine towers and erect them at the offshore site near Kingston.
“We’re basically erecting a whole new wind farm in the water. There is no such thing in the Great Lakes right now. That’s a game-changer for us,” he said after the morning announcement. “It’s up to us to make sure this pushes forward.”
But McKeil said he could have workers doing geotechnical studies at the offshore site as early as this summer. He figured it would take at least a year to “prep the assets” for actual transportation and construction, including retrofitting an ocean-going barge that would be used as a “jack-up platform” for an on-site crane capable of lifting 800 tonnes of steel.
Walters Group is responsible for fabricating the massive steel towers and turbine platforms for the project. President Walter Koplar said it’s too early to say how many new workers he would need for the job, but estimated he would “start spending money on bricks, mortar and equipment within 12 months.”
Bermingham Foundation Solutions will be drilling into the lake bed to secure the turbine towers.
Company head Patrick Bermingham said he would begin hiring additional engineers “almost immediately” if the project got a provincial green light. The company would also eventually have to hire project managers and labourers, he said.
The Hamilton Port Authority will also provide a $20-million facility for parts assembly at Pier 26.
“We are ready with security. We are ready with rail. We’re ready to get going,” said president Bruce Wood said at the news conference. “Our ask is simply for support for this project.”
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