SYDNEY – A developer of a two-turbine wind farm on Boularderie Island says construction on the project will begin this fall if it receives environmental approval from the province next month as expected.
Andy MacCallum, vice-president of developments for Natural Forces Wind Inc., gave Cape Breton regional council Tuesday its first update on the project in nearly two years.
The construction of the wind farm on privately-leased farmland has created a debate about the need for renewable energy and the potential costs to the environment and health that some say can be directly linked to the proximity of homes to wind turbines.
The Hillside Boularderie and Area Concerned Citizens’ Group was created to bring residents’ concerns to the forefront and ask why the community wasn’t given greater say into where the turbines would be located.
At a height of approximately 140 metres, the next-generation wind turbines to be built on Boularderie Island will stand as tall as a 40-storey office building. The closest home will be just over one kilometre away.
The setback – the distance between the turbine and the nearest building – increases by 30 centimetres for every extra 30 cm in height to a turbine greater than 76 metres in height.
Natural Forces received Community Feed-in Tariff Program approval for the development of the Hillside Boularderie community wind farm.
COMFIT is a program the provincial government is offering to communities to get them involved with sustainable energy. It allows for Natural Forces to produce electricity it can then sell back to the power grid.
MacCallum said his company is following all regulations set out by the province in conducting noise, as well as bird, bat and plant studies to determine the strain the turbines will place on the surrounding ecosystem.
Meetings with residents were also part of the assessment.
“It’s a struggle and not without its questions and concerns,” MacCallum said of those people opposed to the wind farm.
“But we’re working with these issues. The public consultation is all a part of the environmental assessment process.”
At a public meeting last week MacCallum said questionnaires filled out by those attending revealed about 75 per cent in attendance were in favour of the wind farm.
He told council it’s a “vocal minority” that has a problem with the project.
“From what I’ve been hearing through our public information sessions and through speaking with people in the community is that the majority of the community does not oppose this project. There’s a vocal minority that do.”
In January and February, Natural Forces formed a community economic development investment fund called “Wind for All” that would be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the wind farm, he said.
About 400 investors from across the province including “many from around the area” have invested a minimum of $1,000 each in this project as well as a proposed wind farm in the Halifax Regional Municipality, a proven sign of support for the Boularderie Island wind farm, MacCallum said.
He did not indicate how many of the 400 investors were from Cape Breton or lived in the area surrounding the site where the wind turbines will be built.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Saccary referred to the public meetings as “window dressing” to appease the provincial guidelines in the environmental assessment.
“The issue of whether or not the community want it there, I believe there should be some sort of community vote put in place. Across the U.S., they don’t force them on people. They get them a chance to vote for that sort of process,” he said.
The Hillside Boularderie citizens’ group disputed the level of support as its spokesman Charles McGuigan said it has a petition with the names of 80 per cent of the residents in Groves Point and nearby communities.
While McGuigan admitted it’s too late to stop the development of this particular wind farm, he wants future proposals to be more closely scrutinized.
He said the municipality should consider extending its 175-metre current setback to a radius of two kilometres or more.
Detailing the effects noise from one or more wind turbines have on a person’s sleep patterns and overall quality of life, McGuigan pointed to a 2009 study by two scientists from the Institute of Noise Control Engineering in Washington, D.C., that suggested a one-turbine farm be at least 1.6 kilometres away from homes, and farther away if the wind farm has two or more turbines.
“It should be at least a two-kilometre setback and that’s what we’re requiring for any more turbines that go up in the area,” McGuigan said.
CBRM acting director of planning Malcolm Gillis said a setback of two kilometres or more would leave no more than five per cent of land in CBRM available for the development of wind energy.
“If the municipality considers changing these setbacks keep in mind these wind turbines are clearly five times as far away as the minimum setbacks that are now in effect,” Gillis said.
“It’s fair to say that it’s a conundrum. The issues on the questions of health and safety for people, and environmental concerns people have, are responsibilities that lie more with the province than the municipality, which doesn’t have a Department of Health or Environment.”
Dist. 10 Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger said he lives about a half-kilometre from the nearest wind turbine in Bridgeport and hasn’t heard a single complaint in the eight years since the turbines began popping up in his district.
He said his community is as pristine as Boularderie or any other in the CBRM, and when it comes to a wind farm, it is beauty that should be seen “in the eye of the beholder.”