Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. has altered its plan for a proposed wind farm in Merrick Township.
Innergex spokesman Francois Morin said Thursday the firm is no longer looking at situating wind turbines within a 15-kilometre radius of Jack Garland Airport based on feedback by radar operator NAV Canada, which has indicated the original proposal would interfere with equipment.
Morin said the city was informed during a meeting Wednesday and that there will be ongoing dialogue as the company continues to evaluate and develop the proposal.
“It was a very good meeting,” said Morin, noting additional changes are likely to occur through further consultation with the city and other stakeholders.
“Of course, the city has to protect its investment. It has a legitimate concern about the airport.”
Innergex’s original wind farm proposal included turbines on Crown land about eight kilometres northeast of the airport.
But Nav Canada, the city and local pilots have all raised safety concerns about potential interference with equipment and flight paths. The city has also indicated the proposal could hamper efforts to attract companies to its airport industrial business park.
Morin said the proposal, which is still in early development, now involves turbines a little more than 15 kilometres from the airport – outside Nav Canada’s and the airport’s area of concern. He said the exact scope of the project has not yet been determined, although it would be a maximum 150 megawatts – approximately 50 turbines.
He said the size really depends on capacity to connect to the grid.
Mayor Al McDonald said the city was pleased to hear that the proposal is no longer within the 15-kilometre radius of the airport, alleviating its operational and economic development concerns.
“It was a very constructive first meeting,” said McDonald, noting the city has some outstanding concerns about the possible location of the turbine.
In addition, he said the city wants to ensure Atlantic Power Corporation’s local operation is protected. The company generates electricity from hot exhaust gases discharged by TransCanada’s natural gas pipeline. McDonald said there may also be other local groups with their own objections to the wind farm proposal.
Morin said Innergex is considering including the Merrick project, as well as a separate wind farm proposal in the Mattawa area, as part of a provincial bidding process that’s expected to open Sept. 1.
He said the province will be issuing a request for proposals for projects totalling 300 megawatts of wind and 140 megawatts of solar energy.
He said the company has not yet decided if it will move ahead with either project.
“Social acceptance is absolutely essential to a project,” said Morin, noting the company will opt out of a project if it cannot compromise and obtain a critical mass of support.
But that does not mean unanimity, he said, acknowledging the the company may not be able to ease every concern out there.
Morin said Innergex will be reaching out over the next several weeks to stakeholders in the North Bay area regarding the Merrick proposal, including cottagers, hunters and other land users, before hosting larger meetings for the general public.
He said the company made a mistake in the Mattawa area by bringing the proposal forward to the general public without first consulting with stakeholder groups. Had it done so, Morin said the company likely could have alleviated some concerns earlier on and provided more definitive answers about the proposal.
He said its clear that there is not social acceptance for the Mattawa area proposal at this time. And Morin said Innergex and its partner will have to make a decision down the road if the project will proceed.
“It’s better to lose a good project than to win a bad one,” he said, noting Innergex has never sold any of its assets and looks to be a long-time operator and community partner.
Innergex has teamed up with the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation of Ottawa region to pursue the proposed 150-megawatt project west of Mattawa and north of the Mattawa River. The project, however, has so far faced strong opposition.
But Morin said consultation and mitigation is part of the process. He said the company is willing to make changes based on concerns that arise.
If the project were to move ahead and receive provincial approval, Morin said it wouldn’t until 2019 that the turbines were in operation due to a lengthy environmental assessment process.
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