At first glance, Wendy Veldman thought she had won the lottery. The numbers on the contract in front of her were enticing and she started imagining all that she could do with that extra money.
But Veldman felt she owed it to herself and her neighbours to look further into the matter, before agreeing to have an industrial wind turbine erected on her property. After doing some research and seeking legal advice, Veldman turned down the offer of what she calls an “absurd” amount. Even though turbines will be erected near her rural home, Veldman has no regrets about turning down offers from two companies, Niagara Region Wind Corp. (NRWC) and IPC Energy, proposing to erect turbines in West Lincoln.
“All I saw was money,” said Veldman of her first reaction to a turbine contract. She said she is “dumbfounded” as to why anyone would agree to have a three-megawatt wind turbine on their property when there is so much uncertainty around them. She lists off negative impacts like health problems, depreciating property values and environmental impacts. But Veldman knows the answer is money.
NRWC is reportedly paying leases of up to $50,000 per year to landowners who have agreed to have a turbine erected on their property. That amount was not disputed by NRWC at an October council meeting when the subject was raised.
For Alvin Krol, the offer was an opportunity to fulfill a dream.
Krol moved to West Lincoln 28 years ago to raise horses. A dream of his was to erect a wind turbine. After researching costs, he knew that dream was far from reality. So when NRWC came knocking on his door asking if they could erect a turbine on his rural property, he said yes – after talking the wife, that is.
“She was against it,” said Krol, who took his wife to see Ontario’s first commercial wind farm located near the shores of Lake Huron in Bruce County. “We couldn’t hear anything.”
So the couple joined a growing number of land owners who have optioned their properties to the project. Many of those landowners attended Monday’s West Lincoln council meeting to show their support for the project. A petition with 260 signatures was presented on their behalf by St. Anns resident Ross Allen.
NRWC has not finalized the exact locations of the 77 turbines it will erect as part of its provincially-approved turbine project, said Randi Rahamim, project spokesperson, during a voluntary update to council. They did, however, submit a new map of optioned lands to council, which shows that 65 per cent of optioned properties are in West Lincoln. Rahamim said the final map, which will outline the exact locations of the 77, three-megawatt turbines, will be available to council 90 days prior to the final mandated public meeting. Recognizing the locations will cause angst in the community, NRWC committed to hosting an open house prior to the final meeting, to discuss and listen to residents’ concerns.
“We are maintaining our commitment to go above and beyond and be as transparent as possible,” said Rahamim, noting their presence at Monday’s council was not required.
Prior to the start of the official meeting agenda, a few residents came to the podium to speak on the issue of turbines, including Neil Switzer, chair of the West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group, who presented council with a summary of the auditor general’s review of the provincial feed-in-tariff (FIT) program, which both the IPC and NRWC projects were approved under. Switzer was most concerned with the fact that FIT contracts would add about $220 million a year to the cost of electricity in the province.
The province released a two-year review of the program Thursday. One of the recommendations in the review is to lower the lucrative premiums the province pays for new wind and solar projects by more than 20 per cent for solar and roughly 15 per cent for wind. The reductions will not impact projects previously approved under the FIT program, including the two West Lincoln wind turbine projects. Those contracts guarantee a rate of 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour. New contracts, under the revisions released last week, guarantee 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak defied the Liberals to tout last week’s two-year FIT review paring back wind and solar subsidies.
“That’s as good as admitting you’ve wasted billions of tax dollars, so you’ll try wasting a couple of billion fewer instead and see if that works,” Hudak said in a release Thursday, hours after the report was made public.
Hudak said the only answer is to eliminate the program altogether, which he recommended in a private member’s bill which he introduced in legislature March 7. The bill lost on a recorded vote in its second reading March 22.
The other key component of Hudak’s bill was restoring municipal decision-making, something the province is promising through green energy reform. Under the new rules, large FIT projects will require a contract launch meeting with the municipality, proponent, project developer, government, utility and agency to facilitate early discussion, share information and define expectations. The Township of West Lincoln was notified of the 230-megawatt project, along with the rest of the province, via a March 2011 announcement regarding new projects approved under the FIT program.
Under the new rules, projects with municipal support will be prioritized through a new point system during the application process. Again, the new rules only apply to new projects. West Lincoln’s hands remain tied when it comes to green energy projects, much to the dismay of Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt.
“I do appreciate you coming forward and going above and beyond what you are required to do, but the reality is we don’t have a choice here,” Merritt said. “We have people who support it and people who are against and it’s creating a divide in this community.”
Rahamim said while the changes to the Green Energy Act do not affect the NRWC project, she said the team would “respect the spirit” of the changes in their efforts to go above and beyond what is required.
The project, said Rahamim, is on schedule to be in commercial operation by 2014.
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