Get ready for the next tilt in Southwestern Ontario’s transformation into the province’s wind-energy hotbed: 10-storey-high poles to help collect all that power. Debora Van Brenk looks at the early static one wind energy giant’s plans are creating in Middlesex County.
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A wind energy giant’s plan to put up 10-storey poles and high-voltage wires along Middlesex County roads is sparking energetic attention.
The Ontario Energy Board will consider the application by NextEra Energy Canada to put up poles from its proposed three wind farms along about 30 km of Middlesex roads north and northwest of Strathroy.
The county and two residents want permission to speak at a hearing – no date set yet – and more than 24 others have asked to be observers.
The county wants to make sure any poles on municipal rights-of-way don’t interfere with existing or planned infrastructure such as bridges, utilities or drainage ditches, Middlesex engineer Chris Traini.
“Anything that would be of public use to the residents should take precedence over transmission poles,” he said.
The county is obligated to share its rights-of-way with utilities, and Traini said he wants to make sure residents’ interests are protected.
Council has also expressed concerns about the possible effect on drivers of roadway sign and pole clutter.
Traini said the county also wants the energy board to help draw lines of clear responsibility for maintenance and safety of the lines and poles.
He has yet to see from NextEra specific details about the number of cables or the planned height, number or individual location of poles.
In a document it filed to the energy board, NextEra said its poles would be 18 to 30 m above ground, made of wood, steel or concrete and spaced 150 m apart. They’d carry 115-kilovolt transmission lines to and from NextEra stations and a Hydro One switching station – all, from 174 planned wind turbines in the area.
But area resident Harvey Wrightman said he has safety concerns.
Because Hydro One has a policy that transmission lines not be strung on the same poles as its electrical distribution lines, most of NextEra’s poles would be built across the road from existing hydro poles.
“You double the number of poles, you’ve got sight-line problems and hazards for motorists,” Wrightman said.
He said soil stability and water quality are also concerns about siting the poles.
He’s not convinced it’s possible to keep the transmission lines on public property and is concerned the company might need to use private property for some of its route.
“They can try the little consensus thing all they want, but I can’t see consensus happening,” Wrightman said.
NextEra has proposed a hearing with written submissions only, but Traini said the county is seeking an in-person hearing.
“These guys are the first and they (won’t be) the last . . . so it would be good at least for the first one to have an oral hearing before the board.”
THE BACK STORY
The wind industry has flocked to Ontario since it began paying a hefty premium for electricity generated by home-grown, green energy equipment.
Dozens of wind farms are built or planned, with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of jobs.
Siemens Canada, for example, has landed a contract to build 124 turbines for the South Kent wind project near Chatham.
Leery wind critics say the health effects haven’t been studied fully and the economic benefit is overstated.
American energy giant NextEra, formerly Florida Light and Power, is North America’s largest wind energy company, with 60 wind farms and investments in four provinces and 22 U.S. states. Its Canadian division has plans for three wind farms in Middlesex:
Kerwood: 37 turbines, 59.9 megawatts of power
Bornish: 45 turbines, 72.9 megawatts
Jericho: 92 turbines, 149 megawatts
NextEra plans to start building sub-stations and transmission lines by late summer, with turbines operating by summer 2014.
Poles will rise as high as 30 metres and carry lines with 115 kilovolts of power. Normal utility poles max out at 18 m high.
NextEra says its line maintenance will include annual visual inspections and thermography scans at connection points at least annually.
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