EDMONTON – A large wind farm with 50 turbines proposed southwest of Vermilion is raising concerns about noise, disturbing farmers and killing migratory birds and bats.
The project, by German-based company E.On Climates and Renewables east of Edmonton, is supported by Minburn County, which will host the bulk of the 27-metre turbine towers, but not by Vemilion County next door.
Residents in the Grizzly Bear Coulee Protection Group say they are concerned about the health impacts, cleanup costs, impact on wildlife and a lack of consultation.
Bats especially are at “medium to high risk” of being killed in the spinning blades, according to Alberta Environment, which also asked the company to move the turbines off a rare tract of undisturbed native grasslands.
“We’re not against renewable power; people just didn’t feel their questions were answered,” said Vermilion County reeve Daryl Watt.
Douglas Livingstone operates a farm and small conference centre in the rolling hills in this busy oil and gas area. He will be looking at seven towers about 1-1/2 kilometres away if the project goes ahead.
To the north is a lake used by thousands of migrating birds, he said.
“We have ducks, geese and bald eagles and pelicans in the lake north of us,” said Livingstone. “There’s going to be collateral damage, so what is acceptable and who determines that? Should it stop a project, I don’t know.”
While most farmers have good relations with oil companies operating on their land, there is less certainty about wind companies, he said.
Some are concerned about the fact that the huge cement base that holds each tower will be left in the ground when the turbines are decommissioned, he added.
“Who is responsible for those issues?” Livingstone asked. “These issues need to be discussed.”
The company has already agreed to some changes at the request of Alberta Environment, according to documents filed for a hearing to be held by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
The company agreed to move the turbines and to monitor raptor nests during construction.
The environment department also requires the company to monitor bat and bird mortality for two years after construction, to collect carcasses to determine rate of fatalities and to determine if the bats changed their behaviour in response to the intrusion into their migration route.
If that study reveals a “higher than acceptable bird or bat fatality rate,” the company will be required to take steps to bring the levels down, the department said in a letter.
Those measures could include shutting down turbines at night during bat migration, changing the speed of the turbines with higher mortality rates, and taking steps to prevent unnecessary lighting at night.
“A firm commitment for implementing mitigation and adaptive management has been made by E.On,” said a letter to the utilities commission.
E.On company contact Gary Martens declined to provide further details, including the cost of the project.
Meanwhile, a wind project approved near Provost has been scaled back to 16 turbines from 50. The smaller project will tie into local distribution, not the provincial grid.
BlueEarth Renewables is holding open houses to discuss changes to the plan, said Marlow Raynolds, vice-president of market development.
The project was scaled back to meet smaller demand from the Alberta School Boards Association, which is signing a long-term contract to buy the power – about 30 megawatts, he said.
“You can only finance what you have a contract for,” said Raynolds.
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