John Barros says it’s time for a new, and less divisive, approach to building wind farms.
The senior project development manager for Mainstream Renewable Power said he wants everyone within the boundaries of its proposed Sydenham wind projects in southeastern Lambton County to be able to benefit from them.
That why, for the last six months, he and Mainstream have been talking about sharing some revenue from its wind projects with all landowners who sign up, and not just those who end up with turbines.
He’s also talking about setting up a community energy co-op that residents of the project area can invest in.
“It takes a community to develop a wind farm,” Barros said.
“The minute you get off that concept, is the first step toward a project failing.”
Barros and Mainstream have been working for five years on its Sydenham proposals to erect turbines in two or three phases that would generate a total of about 167 megawatts of electricity.
In that time, opposition to wind farms has taken hold in rural communities. Ontario’s push into renewable energy is at risk of falling, along with the Liberal minority government and a provincial deal with Samsung that ate up transmission capacity west of London.
“Everybody that had projects,” Barros said, “all of the sudden, got put on the back burner.”
Yet, he said, Mainstream Renewable Power remains committed to its projects that stretch north from Dawn-Euphemia Township and into Brooke-Alvinston and Ennskillen townships.
But, delays and community opposition are taxing on landowners who signed leases, Barros said.
“Sooner or later, people starting running out of patience.”
More recent hopeful signs for Mainstream include planned upgrading of a Hydro One transmission line through Lambton, and the fact the province is expected to open up another round of the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) later this year, awarding new contracts to renewable energy projects, including wind.
Mainstream’s Sydenham projects are currently divided into three segments but Barros said the company may resubmit two together to create an initial 100 megawatt project.
“We’re ready to go,” he said. “The only thing we’re missing is for the government to say, ‘OK, we’ll open the window to FIT applications.’ If they do that, we’re in.”
Barros believes in wind energy, calling it more cost-effective and less potentially harmful than options like nuclear generation.
But, he said the fact that only the landowners who ended up with turbines have seen financial benefit from them has caused division in rural communities, and opened the door to wind action groups that oppose the industry.
Barros said he believes health concerns about wind turbines are overblown.
“Let me put it to you this way, the only people that have ever had health problems are people who don’t have a turbine on their property.”
But, opposition to wind energy can erode support among landowners who have signed up, and Barros said that has led to Mainstream taking its new approach.
“Let’s go back and do what we should have done in the first place,” he said.
“Let’s get community ownership, let’s get community acceptance.”
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