Emotions ran high in Durham Tuesday evening during an open house organized by NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind in solar power in North America, currently proposing a wind turbine development in West Grey. The first half of the open house was a drop-in, one-on-one conversation style meeting, typical of most open houses for previous wind turbine proposals.
The second half was different, a question and answer public forum, one and a half hours in length. Questions were written down and given to the moderator Sheila Willis, who orchestrated the meeting. The authors of the questions were not identified. NextEra hired security to be present at the meeting. A West Grey police officer was also present.
Fifteen landowners have signed contracts with NextEra in West Grey, explained Adam Rickel, project manager, however only 10 landowners will have wind turbines on their properties.
Questions, comments and outbursts erupted from the audience more than once to answers provided by NextEra.
One of the first questions answered was in response to why NextEra needed security to be present at the meeting.
Nicole Geneau, director of NextEra, said that employees and other people associated with the project have been threatened with physical harm and death. Therefore, to keep everyone safe, they employed security, she said.
Joan Osborne, a citizen concerned with the way NextEra handles wildlife near its turbine operations, handed out pamphlets regarding NextEra removing a Bald Eagle’s nest from a tree during construction of a road intended for use to construct a turbine. A question was posed asking whether the employees of NextEra had told their children about the bald eagle’s removal.
Tom Bird, environmental services manager of NextEra Energy Canada answered the question.
“Yes, my children do know,” he said. Bird explained the nest was removed as part of construction of a road. He said this was with permission and licensing from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, who recommended NextEra take down the nest at that time so the Bald Eagle could make a nest somewhere else instead.
NextEra was also questioned on why it trampled and destroyed soy beans located on a farm in Durham.
Geneau said the beans were damaged because of testing NextEra had to do according to archeological studies. She added the farmer was compensated for the loss of his crops by way or pricing of that time.
One question flat out asked what it would take for NextEra to leave. Shortly thereafter, the panel was asked “How do you sleep at night knowing of the rape and pillage happening in Ontario?”
Geneau never completely answered both questions, but was able to show her disagreement with the statements, explaining NextEra believes in a greener and cleaner future for energy production, like the current provincial government. She also reiterated her confidence in the West Grey project and how it could be a benefit to the environment.
The reps were also asked whether any of them lived near a wind turbine or near a wind farm. While none said they did, it was pointed out that if the project were to be approved, employees of NextEra would live within a close proximity to the project for maintenance and for in an instance where there could be an emergency.
Emergency situations came to the forefront again, when later the panel was asked why NextEra needed access to the wind turbine locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Geneau replied that this gives the company access to the wind turbine location in the event of an emergency.
Geneau added that in Nova Scotia, employees of NextEra live within two kilometers from the wind centre.
When asked why Durham was a location but Florida wasn’t, Geneau answered that Florida does have high winds but not for a large amount of time. She said there isn’t as much of a consistency there; that studies in Durham showed that the wind strength and length said Durham had what the company was looking for.
One question asked whether the company would take the wind turbines down if health studies being conducted by the province said there were health effects from the wind turbines.
Geneau said that they don’t anticipate there being any health concerns to do with the wind turbines and that their own studies would have shown anything if there were concerns.
Another question posed at NextEra asked why they were going against what the local government wants. An outspoken member of the audience quoted a recent by-law put forth by West Grey which states that West Grey is not a willing host.
Geneau replied that the Province of Ontario has mandated a policy statement to move away from polluting plants and move toward a greener and cleaner environment.
“I don’t believe that all people within West Grey don’t want us here,” said Geneau.
The crowd roared at that comment. In response, Geneau questioned if a poll or study had ever been conducted.
NextEra ended the meeting with by reiterating their encouragement to members of the public to give their comments to the company.
NextEra hopes to submit their Renewable Energy Approval application for the project soon.
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