Fresh gravel roads cut through corn and soybean fields, and cranes swing on the horizon as the 92-turbine Jericho Wind Energy project rises this summer in Lambton Shores and Warwick Township.
It’s the first large wind energy project in Lambton County that, until now, has only been home to three small sites with a total of 14 turbines. And, as wind projects often do, Jericho has brought controversy and hard feelings to the farm community.
“I often get painted by the brush of being too supportive of them, but I’m not,” said Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber, a retired dairy farmer and 14-year veteran of council.
Weber said he believes the municipality must follow the law, and Ontario’s laws allow wind projects to be built.
“We have to do the best we can to minimize the impacts, without spending a lot of money to fight something that’s actually the law.”
Lambton Shores council signed an agreement with NextEra Energy, the Florida-based company building the Jericho project, to maintain the municipality’s roads during construction, and deal with issues such as the dust complaints that were raised recently, Weber said.
Lambton County council has taken a different approach, refusing to sign a road agreement with NextEra, and deciding to join an appeal of the province’s renewable energy approval for the Jericho project.
A decision on that appeal is due in the fall, but the province allows construction of wind projects to carry on while that process plays out.
NextEra already had wind projects under construction in nearby Middlesex County, and moved quickly to set up shop in Lambton after provincial approval for Jericho arrived in April.
A large lay down yard for construction materials, equipment and crews was cleared on Thomson Line, and work began on a transformer substation and roads to turbine sites where foundations are being dug.
Ben Greenhouse, director of development with NextEra, said the work will move in stages across the project area east of Forest.
“Most of the activity right now would be building roads and excavating,” with turbines starting to go up in the next month or two, he said.
Each of the 80-metre steel towers will be trucked to the project site in three pieces and assembled on a 400-square-metre foundation of poured concrete and rebar.
A cell, holding three blades with a rotor diameter of 100 metres, sits on top and the electricity generated when the wind blows will travel through buried lines to the substation, and then on overhead lines into Middlesex to connect with the power grid.
The project will cost approximately $400 million to build, employ around 200 construction workers and create eight to 10 long-term full-time jobs maintaining the turbines.
“Obviously there’s lot of moving parts, but it will be up and running, absolutely, by the end of the year,” Greenhouse said.
Weber said the Jericho project is putting “trucks on the road” for companies in Lambton Shores. Restaurants and motels are also busy, and a cement plant in Forest added capacity.
“The short-term gain of jobs is certainly evident.”
But, Weber added, he expects business activity will return to normal once the construction is finished.
Lambton Shores council hasn’t yet made a decision on a “community vibrancy” agreement NextEra is offering that Greenhouse said will pay municipalities hosting the Jericho turbines a total of more than $500,000 annually over the 20-year life of the project.
“We know it’s sitting there in the background, and an option for us to use the money to lessen the impact,” Weber said.
The wind project will change the landscape in Lambton Shores, and is already impacting relationships between neighbours and relatives in the community, he said.
“I would hope, with some time, things will get back to families talking to their family members again.”
Dona Stewardson farms with her husband on Ridge Road, within view of NextEra’s construction yard, and knows firsthand about the family divisions the project has created.
Turbines will be built on a farm were she was born, Stewardson said.
“I’m sad to see that so much land is being used up, that will never grow food again.”
Her husband’s family settled in nearby Kinnaird in 1872, and Stewardson was active for many years with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and is a past president of the Lambton Federation of Agriculture. When a local group formed to oppose the wind project, she got involved.
It has “destroyed our community,” Stewardson said.
Suncor is currently waiting for provincial approval to begin building its 46-turbine Cedar Point wind project nearby in Lambton Shores, Warwick and Plympton-Wyoming.
Weber said the two previous small six and four-turbine projects, built in Lambton Shores before Ontario’s Green Energy Act erased the role municipalities had in approving wind energy projects, were supported by council.
“This whole new big project, I don’t believe, would have been,” he said.
“But, the province took that away from us.”
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