The Bluewater Wind Energy Centre, one of two projects Next Era has proposed for the municipality of Bluewater, received Ministry of Environment approval last Monday, April 22.
The project that was approved plans for 37 turbines for a generating capacity of 60 megawatts. Although the turbines will be located in Bluewater, bounded by Blackbush/Bronson Line to the west, Mill Road to the North, Concession 5 Road to the east and Danceland Road/Staffa Road to the south, a transmission line is to be constructed through Huron East to connect to the Seaforth Transformer Station by way of Centennial and Hensall Roads.
“This is a major milestone for the project,” said Project Director Nicole Geneau. “Everyone will see a lot more of us in the future, and me in particular, over the next several months,” said Geneau who added, “Sometimes when you are working through everything and working through the steps, the excitement doesn’t come through, but we are very happy to receive the approval. We have been working with some of our landowners since 2008 and this is a very long-term experience for them as well. We are all thrilled.”
Geneau said the next steps for the project include working through the conditions stipulated in their approval, including their natural heritage commitments.
Those conditions were as a result of the comments received from the municipalities and local residents, said Kate Jordan, media contact for the Ministry of the Environment.
While the Ministry aims to issue approvals within six months of their completion date, this one did take longer because of a backlog of applications, said Jordan.
“We do aim for a six-month turnaround, but we need to ensure that the standards of the application are upheld and that there is sufficient time to review and solicit public input during the approval,” she said.
The conditions do vary from project to project depending on size and location, but Jordan said some, like the road user agreement and sound studies are seen with every project.
Geneau said the items listed as conditions are “fairly standard” and have been seen in some of Next Era’s other approvals. Construction of the project must also be completed within three years.
“We’re not surprised by the conditions. Several of the conditions were items we had been working on anyway,” she said.
The conditions stipulate that Next Era needs to carry out an acoustic emission audit of the sound levels produced by the operation of the equipment, must implement the pre and post construction Natural Heritage monitoring program, which includes bird and bat monitoring and must notify the Ministry of complaints received about adverse effects caused from construction, installation, operation or retirement of the facility.
They are also not to construct or install any facility components in areas that support Bobolink habitat until a permit is issued and must prepare a traffic management plan and enter into a road users agreement with the local municipalities.
Both Bluewater and Huron East have sent over draft road user agreements, said Geneau, who added they are in the process of negotiating the terms of those agreements.
Two types of inspections can be completed by the Ministry to enforce the conditions, including proactive inspections and inspections because of complaints, said Jordan.
In terms of the Leave to Construct with the OEB for the transmission line, Geneau said, “It’s a lengthy process, but it’s been very interactive.” She hopes the process will wrap up by the middle to end of May. Although Bluewater requested an oral hearing, the process was completed through written correspondence.
Since the transmission lines cannot be co-located on Hydro One’s poles, Next Era is still in the process of negotiating some of the details of the transmission lines.
“Our discussions are still ongoing. It’s one of the things we are working on. Still as the proponent of the project, we need to work closely with Hydro One on a number of things.”
“It’s been a long process and we hope to continue a good working relationship with Hydro One,” she added.
While one of the next steps in the construction of the project would be applying for a building permit fee with the municipality of Bluewater, Next Era is in the process of appealing their bylaw, which set fees at $434,000.
“It’s a bit complicated,” said Geneau of the process, adding she can’t discuss the details of the appeal to quash the fee.
“In terms of construction, our schedule has not changed. We are still on track for that,” she said.
She said Next Era is still working with the municipality to make something work, but she reiterated they are disappointed that “the situation has got to where it is. We’re still talking and continue to try to negotiate a deal that works for everyone.”
But work on the ground will start without the building permit, which is only needed for the foundation and building of the tower.
Next Era can still go ahead with starting entrance roads or preparing the sites for construction. The public can also anticipate seeing a transportation plan for the routes used for the delivery and haul of the construction materials as well as an announcement of the location of the operations centre.
“We’ll continue our survey work in terms of the environmental reports and we still have a little archeology to do,” she said.
“We’re getting our ducks in a row and documenting every tree, everything in the project area and are working with local authorities to work out a detailed emergency plan.”
Another condition of the approval is to start a community liaison committee, which Geneau said is a great opportunity for people that are curious to participate in the process. The minimum number of meetings for the community is two per year, for two years.
Next Era’s other project proposed for Bluewater and South Huron, is expected to be approved in a few weeks. That proposal includes 63 turbines for 102 megawatts of generation.
In Huron County, Jordan said the Ministry of the Environment has three wind energy projects that have received approval, two applications have been deemed complete and three are in the technical review stage.
Huron East CAO Brad Knight said a preliminary road user agreement with Next Era has been discussed at the municipality’s administrative committee and will need to be adopted by bylaw by the full council.
“There’s not a whole lot Next Era should find issue with and we’re still getting legal opinion about some of it,” he said, adding that the road user agreement has been sent to Next Era.
Knight said the final location of transmission lines still have to be pinned down in a specific way and agreements still have to be reached about how many trees need to be removed and how they will be replaced.
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