Loyalist Township Mayor Bill Lowry said on Wednesday he is “totally devastated,” a day after the Ontario government gave the Amherst Island wind turbine project conditional approval.
Windlectric Inc.’s Amherst Island Wind Energy Project is to comprise up to 26 wind turbine generators and one substation transformer, with construction expected to begin next summer and be completed early in 2017.
“It’s a shock but yet it’s not a shock,” Lowry added when reached by phone on Wednesday morning.
“It’s been a long haul for five years and there’s been a lot of dialogue and we’ve spent a lot of time as council and staff lobbying the ministers every time the portfolio changed in Toronto.
“We just kept pleading and pleading and pleading. It’s just common sense and rationale, but that didn’t happen.
“We just thought it was taking so long to settle that we were actually gaining some ground, we had a bit of hope, we thought we saw light at the end of the tunnel.”
While Lowry expressed extreme disappointment, Ian Robertson, the chief executive officer of Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp., the parent company for Windlectric, was “thrilled to come out of a very comprehensive permitting and evaluation process with a set of conditions which we fully anticipated and are completely comfortable with.”
The government placed 27 conditions on the company, including making sure the project would be completed within three years, as well as requirements to monitor noise emissions and ensure they do not exceed acceptable limits, and to implement a post-construction natural heritage monitoring program.
“I think the ministry doesn’t want these permits to be sitting out there indefinitely,” Robertson said.
The number of proposed turbines had earlier been reduced from 33 to 26.
“The majority of the construction from our point of view is going to happen next year, so that three-year window is hardly going to be a restraining factor for us.”
Robertson said design and engineering work will begin this fall on the docks and other infrastructure to support the project’s construction.
Most of the main construction will happen next summer and fall. Robertson said the project will take 12 to 18 months, depending on winter weather.
“Commissioning the project would be some time in early 2017.”
Robertson said the construction will benefit the local economy with jobs and the purchasing of some local supplies.
“Our objective obviously is to hire as many locals as we possibly can. It’s always been our philosophy to bring in as many dollars as we possibly can.”
Lowry doesn’t anticipate the construction of the turbines going smoothly.
“The construction phase is going to be horrific for people on the island, people in Bath and people in area of the loading docks,” he said.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road.”
Roberston said every effort will be made to mitigate the inconveniences.
“We’re going to be mindful of the privacy of people, of trying to minimize the impact of their daily lives in terms of traffic.”
Lowry said he was impressed with the fight put up by island residents in opposition to the project.
“They’re very professional people with a lot of great data that was supporting everybody’s hope that this just doesn’t fit on this island,” he said of the Association to Protect Amherst Island.
Robertson understands people being against the project.
“While the opposition has been vocal, I might offer up that the support has been a little bit less vocal but that’s not to say it’s not there.”
Robertson said there are both positive and negative comments on the environment bill of rights page on the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change website.
He said the project has enjoyed some broad-based support among people who own land on the island and who are generally farmers able to make money off their land from the project.
“The fact that the turbines are spread across a large number of land owners, we’ve tried to be genuinely respectful of the concerns that have been raised through this entire multi-year process,” Robertson said.
Roberston said there’s a benefit of a non-fossil fuel energy source such as this.
“You can look at wind turbines and the problem is they are tall and you can either see a blight on the landscape or see something majestic.”
Lowry understands the township will have to work with the energy company to get the project done.
“We can’t drag our feet any longer; we have to abide by the laws of the land,” Lowry said. “But at the same time we’re not going to be pushed, we’re still going to do what we’re supposed to do and not be intimidated by the length of the contract.
“We want to be the driver in the process.”
Robertson said the entire township will benefit financially once the project is up and spinning.
He said a Vibrancy Fund will provide “hundreds of thousands of dollars” a year to the municipality, “to be used by the township in whatever way they feel is important and appropriate.”
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