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Residents of small N.B. community renew opposition to proposed wind farm

Residents of the tiny community of Anse-Bleue are renewing their attempts to stop a Fredericton company from building a wind farm near their homes.

They say a representative of Naveco Power is again meeting with landowners in the area whose properties would be crossed by transmission lines carrying the renewable power to the NB Power grid.

Last fall Naveco’s CEO told CBC News that he was looking elsewhere for a site because of the local opposition to the five proposed wind turbines.

But in recent weeks the company’s focus appears to have returned to Anse-Bleue, near Caraquet.

“Anse-Bleue is their only option, I guess, because that’s what they’re trying to push,” says organic farmer Patrick Thériault. “They’re calling everybody that has land that they might need access to.”

Over the winter, Naveco and the province exchanged letters on whether the wind turbines would be visible from the Village Historique Acadien, a major tourism destination near Anse-Bleue.

A report commissioned by the company argues that tree foliage, the grey colour of the wind turbines and cloud cover would make them less visible from the site.

The Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture will not let its land be used for transmission lines “until they are comfortable that the turbines will not be visible from the VHA,” according to a letter from the province to Naveco.

More than 85 per cent of residents in Anse-Bleue signed a petition last year against the wind farm.

Naveco’s proposal comes under a 2015 law that allows small-scale local renewable energy projects to sell up to 20 MW of electricity to the NB Power grid.

Last October Naveco CEO Amit Virmani told CBC News he was looking at an alternate site in southern New Brunswick that would involve First Nations and would not require restarting the environmental impact assessment from scratch.

He said walking away from Anse-Bleue would require NB Power’s agreement to change their contract.

He also said a new site would come at “a significant cost” to the company, and Thériault says that’s probably why the company is focusing again on his community.

“It’s probably financial factors, because the way it’s been done, they’re too far into it. There’s too much money invested. They would lose too much money to move somewhere else.”

Virmani said the project is still alive but said he could not comment any further.

“We’d love to give you more updates on the project, but at this time, senior officials at NB Power have demanded that we route all media requests to their communications personnel for comment,” he said.

NB Power spokesperson Marc Belliveau would not comment on the utility’s discussion with Naveco about a new site.

“We continue to have discussions with Naveco but due to confidentiality clauses by both companies in the power purchase agreement, we cannot discuss some of the terms of the agreement. Other than this, we have nothing new to report on the project.”

Meanwhile, community members plan to send a letter to all 49 MLAs in the Legislature so that their objections are “better understood,” says resident Gina Girard.

“We’re not whining for the sake of whining,” she says. “We’re not against renewable energy. We’re against this, for particular reasons, because it’s too close to our homes.”

Last February, then-NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas told Radio-Canada that Naveco had to find a way to “work with the community and ensure there is a local component. … If they don’t have the support of the community, it’ll be difficult to move ahead.”

Residents worry about “shadow flicker,” a flashing effect created by sunlight and shadow from the wind turbines inside their homes. Virmani told CBC last fall he has promised to shut down the turbines at the times that would happen.

The provincial law allowing small-scale renewable projects to sell electricity to the grid requires a “local entity” to be the majority owner. The local entity must be a municipality, First Nation, non-profit organization or cooperative.

In Naveco’s original proposal the “local entity” partner was the City of Bathurst, but in December 2019 the city pulled out, saying the business case wasn’t there.

To replace Bathurst, Virmani set up a cooperative that includes himself and other Fredericton residents.

The project is registered for an environmental impact assessment, and the debate about the visual impact of the turbines on the Village Historique Acadien is a part of that process.