GUELPH – Wind turbine opponents in Centre Wellington say the Ontario government is rubber stamping approvals.
This on news that the company involved in a wind farm development in the community is taking brash business steps even before approvals for a number of its other projects in Ontario have been granted.
After being unsuccessfully challenged at the Environmental Review Tribunal by opponents, a “wpd Canada” wind farm consisting of four wind turbines between Fergus and Belwood in Centre Wellington was approved in mid-October. It is the only one of six proposed wpd Canada projects to be approved.
The company has submitted other applications for approval, but in the meantime it has signed a major contract with European alternative energy giant Suzlon Group and its subsidiary REpower Systems to build turbines for all six projects.
That has opponents of wind farms in the Centre Wellington condemning the approval process as undemocratic and a formality.
A Canadian subsidiary of a European company, wpd Canada is the developer of six large-scale wind projects in southern Ontario, including the Springwood Wind Project near Fergus.
Since the project was first announced in 2010, a large-scale opposition movement formed in the community to try to stop it, citing various health, property value, business and aesthetic concerns as reasons for stopping it.
A first public meeting on the project held just over two years ago attracted about 1,000 opponents who protested wpd Canada’s “intrusion into our community,” said Janet Vallery, president of the Oppose Belwood Wind Farm Association. A second meeting attracted about 500 protestors.
Vallery said in an interview the outcry from the public appears to have gone unheeded by an Ontario government that has its mind made up about wind energy and will “rubber stamp” projects that meet certain guidelines.
She said wpd Canada and its partners are making bold development decisions even without formal approval in hand, because approval is a forgone conclusion.
“Our concern right from the beginning was this seemed like a rubber stamp approval process by the Ontario Liberals,” Vallery said. “They set up basically a checklist for these wind developers to fill in, and if all the boxes were ticked off and minimum reporting requirements were done, then they give them the approvals.”
On Monday, Suzlon Group subsidiary Repower Systems announced it had finalized a contract with wpd Europe and its Canadian arm to produce all 51 wind turbines.
To comply with Ontario content rules, Repower will build a manufacturing facility somewhere in southern Ontario to produce the turbines. The equipment is all designated for the six wpd Canada projects, including the one in Centre Wellington. Others are in Kawartha Lakes, Middlesex, Prince Edward, Simcoe, and Dufferin counties.
Wpd Canada manager of communications Kevin Surette said Monday the company is confident approval for the remaining five projects will be forthcoming because they all comply with Ontario guidelines. Applications for four of the five projects have already been submitted.
“Ultimately the decision rests with the Ministry of the Environment,” said Surette. “We’re very confident that we have submitted comprehensive applications that meet all the requirements that were laid out in the legislation and in the regulations. And so we feel confident that they will be approved.”
Ministry of the Environment spokesperson Kate Jordan defended the approval process as rigorous, designed in such a way as to ensure the protection of human health and the environment. A detailed technical assessment is part of the process, and developers “must successfully demonstrate that they have met the consultation requirements and can meet the standards, setbacks and noise limits the ministry has put in place to protect Ontarians before any approvals are issued,” she said in an email.
She added that the ministry has the authority, and has used it, to return applications that were incomplete or non-compliant to standards. She added that project developers can choose to carry out preparatory work and equipment purchases for projects prior to approval, but such preliminary work is done at the developer’s risk.
Vallery said opponents of wind energy have been “stripped of our democratic rights” particularly because local communities have no authority in the approval process.
“The whole thing, with the Green Energy Act and the renewable energy approval process, is streamlined and fast-tracked for the developers,” she said. “The government shows no concern for the people of rural Ontario in terms of health, in terms of economic impacts, in terms of property devaluation. None of our concerns are heard, and they fast-track these projects.”
She added it is highly unlikely that wpd Canada and its partners would take the business risks they are taking without some assurances from the government that approval is forthcoming.
Putting wind turbines up in rural communities, she added, is like forcing people to live in “an industry factory” that produces energy around the clock. She said there is health issues related the low frequency noise produced by wind turbines that potentially causes sleeplessness and anxiety.
Springwood Wind Project is to be built roughly five kilometres north of Fergus along 3rd Line between Sideroad 15 and Sideroad 20.
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