Cars and trucks lined both sides of the Ridge Road Tuesday evening as the Town Hall parking lot in Godmanchester overflowed with residents concerned over a proposed project that would see ten wind turbines erected in the municipality. The atmosphere was charged as residents packed into the small room so tightly they were pressed against walls and out the door in the back. A resounding hesitation that quickly gave way to a booming “no” echoed throughout most of the evening’s exchange between the municipal council, the project promoter, Mr. Jean-Claude Desgroseilliers of Troc International, and the public.
In a brief introduction and explanation of the proposed project, Mr. Desgroseillers suggested the wind in Godmanchester was similar to that of Saint-Remi, Saint-Isidore and Sainte-Martine, where the Monteregie Wind Turbine Project is currently under construction by Kruger Energy.
The project on the table in Godmanchester would see the implantation of ten 2.3-megawatt turbines with a rotor diameter of 92 meters within the municipality on the New Erin Road and the Rang 4. The turbines were designed specifically for sites with less wind, and it is the technological advancement in turbines that has rendered Godmanchester a viable location, despite the fact a project was abandoned several years ago due in part to insufficient wind.
Mr. Desgroseillers suggested that his project would follow the stricter standards outlined in the most recent version of the Haut-Saint-Laurent MRC’s modified interim control bylaw, regardless of the fact the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy recently rejected it. According to the current interim control bylaw, now being re-worked by the council of Mayors and the MRC, the 2.3 MW turbines would have to be installed at a minimum of 500 meters from the nearest residence, whereas M. Desgroseillers promises his turbines will be installed 900 meters from residences. The MRC is now considering a recent interim control bylaw approved by the government in the Haut-Richelieu that restricts wind turbines to 2,000 meters, or two kilometers from the nearest residence.
“I think it is right for people to want to get information. It is a public consultation and that is what it is for,” said Godmanchester Mayor Pierre Poirier, who came under fire for holding the public consultation only after options had been signed with property owners to allow the construction of turbines on their properties.
A number of property owners have signed an option to lease, which could become a legal lease if the project moves forward. “But, “that is not where the project is right now,” says Mr. Desgroseillers, noting how he first needs concrete data on the viability of the wind. The municipality has already issued a permit allowing him to erect a temporary tower to measure the wind, and he says, before he puts any real money into the project he wants to hear the new government’s position on renewable energy.
“We can’t be for it or against it,” said the Mayor. “It is the time to ask questions, not to have a debate,” he said. “When will it be time?” one resident retorted, his frustration beginning to show. Another resident simply asked “how do we stop it if we do not want it?”
The Mayor responded truthfully, that the only way to stop the project in its tracks is if landowners refuse to sign contracts or leases for their land.
“We have no power of expropriation,” said Mr. Desgroseilliers, confirming that if residents refused to allow turbines and the wiring on their land, the project will not go forward.
A memorandum of understanding has been submitted to the municipality, and the council will be taking the public’s opinion into account in deciding whether to endorse any documents relating to the project. At this time nothing has been signed. “What some of the citizens want is for us to not sign the memorandum of understanding. We’ll wait for the petition and see what we can do. The rest is the by-law,” says the Mayor, referring to the fact the municipality is bound by the provincially approved bylaw at the MRC level. “There was never a suggestion that we wanted the turbines,” added the Mayor.
The municipality could refuse to sign the memorandum of understanding with the promoter, but this would not terminate the project. It would however throw a stick in Mr. Desgroseiller’s spokes by forcing the promoter to approach Hydro Quebec with the project without the approval of the municipality, which will also put him in a weaker position at the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE).
“It’s a good project for the municipality and it is the future,” says Mr. Desgroseillers, noting that even in the event his project is not accepted, “somebody else will come along and use the data because it is all public and it will go forward. You cannot stop progress.”
For Mr. Desgroseillers, the public consultation was “a good thing,” however he suggests the meeting was informal. “The real meeting is at the BAPE,” he says, referring to the public consultations that will be presided over by the government body in the event the project is accepted at the municipal level and by Hydro Quebec. “It’s a very democratic approach,” he says, acknowledging he has no idea what the results might be.
Certainly, following the consultation with Godmanchester residents, Mr. Desgroseillers understands a large proportion of the population objects to the project, and the evening’s exchange did little to change their minds. “For me, their responses were not satisfactory. They were not clear,” said Ms. Carolle Trépanier, who has been very vocal in her disapproval of the project. “I think he has to listen to the public and respect people’s opinions,” she says of the Mayor and municipal council’s accountability to residents. “He must support the residents who have to live with this situation,” she adds.
A petition was passed around the room against the development of the wind farm, which will be presented to the municipality. Any residents or citizens interested in signing the petition can find an online version at http://www.petitions24.net/non_aux_eoliennes_a_godmanchester.