Turbine proponents discovered their ideas may be just blowing in the wind as they spoke to Puslinch council regarding the potential of a wind park in the township with up to ten turbines.
Christine Koenig of Koenig Consultants, along with Arvid Hesse of wpd Canada Corporation, made a pitch to council on April 18.
Mayor Dennis Lever explained both he and township CAO Brenda Law had met the representatives twice before; once prior to the 2010 municipal election.
“They wanted to come to the community to talk about the possibility of power generation through wind,” said Lever.
However, at that point, since the outcome of the election was uncertain, Lever said the proponents were asked to return later. It was suggested then that the proponents come to council to discuss the proposal.
“This proposal is a bit different than the types in other local communities in Wellington County,” said Hesse.
He said “wpd Canada is absolutely committed to renewable energy system, with a focus on wind farm development.” Established in Germany in 1996, Hesse said the company has brought 1,400 turbines into operation.
“We were awarded six FIT (Feed-in Tariff) contracts,” Hesse said. The nearest wpd project is the proposal in Centre Wellington near Belwood.
Koenig was at council representing KCI New Energy, and said, “renewable energies are in our blood.”
Jointly with wpd Canada, she said “the way to go with renewable energies is within community-commercial partnerships.”
The intent is to overcome the anxiety associated with wind energy by having active community participation, she added.
Koenig said work on developing that framework was already being developed by the time the government began revising the rules.
She stated, “All projects now require community engagement and participation to make them viable, to access the grid, and to be awarded FIT contracts.”
Koenig said her role is to work on developing that community engagement – to talk to people, inform them and possibly get them on board with such a project.
She added the project remains at a very early stage, and she anticipated representatives would only be back if it was determined such a project would be financially viable.
Hesse said the overall idea is to form a commercial-community partnership for the wind farm and to secure above-average returns for all investors. He added the delegation also wanted to offer information to address concerns, because the wind turbine field is not well understood.
In the past, turbines were installed and then the developers just left.
“It left municipalities in a grey zone, and for some, even darkness,” Hesse said, adding, “We are not looking at a super-big project.”
He said it would likely represent five to eight sites with a maximum generation capacity of 20 megawatts.
Likely it would also require a $50 million investment to cover the hardware costs.
In addition, they are seeking a community interest of anywhere from 15 to 50%. What wasn’t clear, was exactly where the project would be within Puslinch Township.
Proponents were keen on locating near the Highway 401 corridor because of the access to the electrical grid infrastructure.
For proponents, the ideal wind site would allow the turbines to meet provincial setback rules:
– 550 metres from turbines to dwellings,
– 120 metres from significant environmental features; and
– within a corridor 5km to the north and south of Highway 401 for accessibility to transmission lines. The site would also need to have lots of wind and be on higher ground.
“But to be clear, we really haven’t started the property prospecting yet,” Hesse added.
“At this stage we just want to share our ideas with the municipality.”
He said what sets this project apart is that it is looking for local investors.
Hesse also stated that feasibility studies could take up to a year to determine whether a Puslinch project is viable.
Koenig said while the company is looking at the technical aspects, the project would also need 50 Puslinch landowners willing to form a wind-energy cooperative.
“Only then would this be considered a community project under the revised FIT rules,” she said.
So even before the technical work was complete, the company would need to work on the community engagement part of the project. Part of this would involve finding community champions to support the project.
“It is the people from here, who must support this so that we can work together,” Koenig said.
As to what that would mean financially for the community.
“The community would need to invest a minimum of 15% to qualify as a community project.”
As a community project, the energy produced qualifies for a higher rate of payment under the FIT rules. She added five turbines would likely be the minimum number to be installed. Fewer than that does not take advantage of the economies of scale, she said.
From here on, the intent would be to locate prospective sites and talk to landowners.
Councillor Susan Fielding said, “To be honest, I don’t know a lot about windmills, but it has been a very controversial issue in this province, and particularly in parts of our county.”
She said there are a number of individuals who are dead set against them because of potential environmental and health issues.
“I was a little taken aback that you were considering Puslinch,” said Fielding.
She hadn’t believed the local geography was conducive to windmills.
“There are not many flat spaces in Puslinch.”
When Fielding asked about the amount of land required, Hesse said it depends because the turbines need to respect not only the provincial setbacks, but distances between turbines.
The distance between turbines averages 400 to 500 metres. He added space between individual turbines can still be farmed.
When he asked if that helped, Fielding responded, “No, I was looking as to whether you would need 100 acres or entire farms.”
Koenig said “One single turbine doesn’t need much space. The idea is also not to have them all in one spot.”
Fielding stated in other locations she’s seen huge numbers of turbines in fields – not a mishmash here and there.
As to the maps provided, she said “It looks like it could be anywhere.
“People here would like to have a better idea of the area being proposed. A lot of people don’t want to live near a windmill, and I am not sure I would want to either.”
Koenig said the idea was not to create a field of turbines, but finding areas to install a maximum of 10 turbines.
Mayor Lever interjected.
“I’m going to have to ask you to be more specific about your answers because we are quickly running out of time. We can’t spend another hour here.”
Hesse said 100 acres could accommodate four to five turbines.
Fielding said “I would certainly like to see how the community feels. Personally from what I know, I’m not very supportive.”
She said this would very much depend on the cooperation of the community.
“We don’t want to waste each other’s time.”
Councillor Wayne Stokley said with all the concerns in the other parts of the county, he has the same concerns as Fielding.
“There are a lot of health issues that people are talking about, land issues and legal issues. A lot of it is up in the air as to whether this is a good thing,” said Stokley.
He alluded the difficulty encountered in putting up a communications tower – for a service people wanted.
“I would certainly want to see more input from our residents. Location is the most important thing, and that is something you need to be more specific about.
“To say this is going to happen in Puslinch [as a whole] is not really going to help me or the residents of Puslinch make up their minds.”
As to the idea of having 50 local people to be involved in the project, he asked if that meant 50 interested people, or 50 people living close to where the turbines might go.
Koenig explained the requirement is for 50 Puslinch property owners.
Those investors would not necessarily own land where the turbines would be installed – but they would have 50% of the equity of the project.
Stokley said based on what was happening elsewhere in the county, he could not support the idea without access to more information and input from residents.
Councillor Ken Roth appreciated the proponents coming to council.
“I really don’t know why it takes 50 property owners to form a cooperative if it does not involve their properties. It does not make any sense to me,” said Roth.
He also did not support the idea, and instead recommended proponents hold a public meeting at the community centre to see what type of response is there.
Councillor Jerry Schmidt said while he was not a fan of wind farms, “I don’t have a closed mind.”
He applauded the approach of involving the community and the potential of partial ownership.
“Good luck in achieving that,” Schmidt said.
He anticipated proponents would be travelling a rough road on this project.
Mayor Lever said he has serious concerns as well – particular in finding areas of Puslinch where the provincial setbacks could be met.
“Puslinch really isn’t that rural anymore and there are concentrations of residents in every area of the township with the exception of the areas around the gravel pits.”
He also did not believe the FIT rates were reduced enough.
“The industry needs to be more economically viable on its own merits – without as much government subsidy,” said Lever.
He said that if 50 landowners came together as a cooperative and wanted to do this and could easily meet the setbacks, then that would be up to them – as long as they are not affecting others.
Lever stressed there are a lot of natural features and habitat in Puslinch.
As a result “Once you start implementing those setbacks, I think you have trouble finding sites for one or two turbines. But that is up to you to pursue.
“I think the message is clear that there is not much support here from the council. Perhaps having a public meeting might help, although you might attract a lot of people not from the township.”
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