The message is loud and clear: Essex doesn’t want more wind turbines.
Essex town council not only shut down a pre-agreement on a windmill farm project, but also sent a letter to the Minister of the Environment stating that the town is not willing to host additional wind turbines.
GDF SUEZ Canada Inc., first approached council in May, giving notice that it would be putting a proposal forward to have a wind turbine farm in an area bordered by Highway 3, Walker Road, County Road 46 and South Malden Road.
At this week’s council meeting, the company was hoping to take the next step despite opposition from the town.
“They were looking for us to sign on the dotted line to say that we were interested in signing a pre-agreement,” said Richard Meloche, deputy mayor of Essex.
Council voted against signing on to the project which could eventually lead to 22-25 new wind turbines and generate $1 million over 40 years.
“It’s actually a quality-of-life issue, as far as I’m concerned,” Meloche said. “They can throw all the money they want at you … but if residents don’t want them, well why would we want the million dollars?”
Meloche said much of the resistance is about the esthetics and the noise of the windmills.
“When you take a huge area of Lakeshore, and (you have windmills) no matter what direction you look in, to me and a lot of residents it’s landscape pollution,” he said.
In addition, Meloche suggested that a larger scale windmill project may negatively impact property values.
“We’re concerned now, if we have our whole town covered with turbines, is there a chance that the assessment board is going to come in and reduce assessment on every house in the community?” he said.
Meloche said another factor leading to the decision was the company’s alleged lobbying residents.
According to Meloche, the company approached some property owners for potential wind turbine locations and paid them to send letters in support of the project.
“They don’t have one letter from anyone who has not been paid to say that they are in agreement,” he said.
But Julie Vitek, a spokeswoman for GDF SUEZ Inc., says that’s just not true.
“Of their own accord, these local residents have submitted letters in support of the project to their elected officials,” she said in an email.
In other cases, Meloche said the company offered money to residents, who formerly opposed the windmills.
“Before they even came to council, they went to those people and offered them $1,000 each year for the next 40 years. If you sign on the dotted line, no questions asked and you don’t put up a fight,” he said.
Again, GDF SUEZ denied this claim.
“The only payments to local residents in association with the project would be to residents who have agreed to host turbines on their property (these are lease payments), or to those residents who are directly adjacent to those properties. By including adjacent property owners, the goal is to broaden the project’s benefits to the community,” Vitek said.
One resident who was approached by the company is Ted Richardson, who owns 80 acres on South Malden Road. He told the company representative to get out of his house.
“They want to give me $1,000 a year for an easement over my 80 acres. And it also says that I am not to have the property maintained as a family residence,” he said. “They want me out of my house.”
Richardson fears that the company may go ahead with the project regardless of the municipality’s input.
“What really has me concerned is not only about my contract. But they literally threatened Essex: ‘We’re going to do it anyway.’”
GDF SUEZ Inc. disputed this claim and said the company would like to achieve a consensus with the community, and that the project will benefit the town.
“(The project) would have the capacity both to generate enough renewable energy to serve 14,000 homes and to generate multiple other economic benefits for the local community. For example, with each new project, our company commits to hiring as many local residents as possible during construction as well as at the permanent facility, in addition to purchasing a variety of local goods and services,” Vitek said.
But town council is sending a clear message to the province.
“We are actually sending a letter to (Environment) Minister Chiarelli and (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and leaders of the two opposition parties … letting them know the town of Essex is not a willing host for any additional wind turbines,” Meloche said.
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