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The image of white towers set to a mountainous backdrop has become so iconic that it’s hard to imagine a time when the Pincher Creek region didn’t have wind turbines spinning in the breeze.
While renewable electrical production has its merits, the closer you get to a wind farm the less you can see the rolling foothills and mountain range southwestern Alberta is famous for, making the iconic white towers a bit of an eyesore.
MD of Pincher Creek residents living along Highway 507 are voicing that exact concern over a proposed wind energy project by Clem Geo-Energy.
A small company started in 2014, Clem Geo has proposed wind and hydrogen projects in Newfoundland, a proposed 16-turbine wind farm in Paintearth County, Alta., and a solar project in development in the MD of Willow Creek.
The four turbines Clem Geo plans to build just west of Pincher Creek and north of Highway 507 are part of the company’s Castle Meridian wind power project.
The small wind farm would generate 22.4 megawatts of electricity via four Vestas-150 generators, which would sit atop a 105-metre tower. Each of the turbine blades that catch the wind to generate electricity is 75 metres long, giving each turbine a total height of 180 metres.
Clem Geo has submitted an application for the project to the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates electricity generation in the province. The AUC is currently accepting submissions from interested parties who have issues or concerns.
The sheer size of each turbine has many local residents who normally support renewable energy, like Pat MacInnis, pushing back against the proposed development.
“Absolutely, wind energy is a good source of energy – but not here,” she says.
Although it might not look like it, the tips of turbine blades move at tremendous speeds, often exceeding 200 kilometres an hour for larger turbines. Birds and bats are regularly killed by wind farms, making Ms. MacInnis worry about the numerous bald eagles and other birds of prey that frequent the area.
The additional infrastructure needed to get the generated electricity to the grid, such as the substation, power lines and access roads, could also negatively affect animals like elk and bears that travel through the area.
Additionally, those living in close proximity to the turbines would have their landscape views permanently altered, which Ms. MacInnis says would cause her property value to drop by at least 10 per cent.
“We have to protect this habitat; we have to protect the community,” she says, adding that maintaining the mountainous viewscape to attract tourists is a better economic driver in the long run.
“Where do we see the benefit in this? We have to look at it every day, all day,” Ms. MacInnis adds.
“The wow factor of coming over the hill [on Highway 3] is gone. You used to be able to come over that hill and all you’d see is this beautiful vista – well it’s gone. So why encroach farther into it?”
Clem Geo declined an interview request from the Breeze but provided an email statement saying the company has been working with private landowners and the MD for several years on the project to complete assessments.
“Clem Geo will continue to engage stakeholders in the project zones and surrounding area in accordance with the AUC rules and regulations,” the statement concludes.
Interview requests to the AUC received no reply.
Hundreds of local residents share Ms. MacInnis’s opinion, with an organized letter of objections receiving over 400 signatures in just one week. The letter was submitted to the AUC and to MD of Pincher Creek council, who discussed the matter during their May 25 meeting.
Though still waiting for a development application and request for property rezoning from Clem Geo, Coun. Rick Lemire said MD residents have made it clear the Castle Meridian project is not welcome.
“Sometimes constituents are out there wondering if we’re listening,” he said. “It’s pretty loud and clear where they stand with this.”
Similar to Ms. MacInnis, Coun. Lemire said he is not opposed to wind development but that location matters, especially in regards to tourism and the MD’s plans for developing the airport.
“We have to decide which way we’re going to go. If we’re going to allow them [Clem Geo], then I think that we should fold the towel in on the airport development,” he said, adding that council had a duty to show constituents they were listening to their concerns.
Coun. Bev Everts agreed.
“It is a hard conversation to have, but we have to have it. By not listening and not having the conversation, we’re not doing our elected job,” she said.
Typically, wind energy companies submit an application to the AUC before contacting the respective municipality for permission to develop because the environmental studies AUC requires take two years to complete.
Though permission from both the AUC and the municipality is required, Reeve Brian Hammond worried the Castle Meridian project could still be allowed to move forward without public support.
“The rezoning process is put in place so the public has a chance for input,” he said. “If we don’t have authority to say this isn’t in our best interest, then what’s the point?”
A simple solution, said Coun. Terry Yagos, was to revisit a bylaw proposed in 2007 that would limit wind farm construction west of Highway 6 and south of Highway 3.
“Let’s just redo the bylaw. Let’s set some rules we all agree on, and if some government agency challenges us on those rules then we’ll deal with it then,” said Coun. Yagos.
For now, he continued, the MD has no power to stop the project until an application is received from Clem Geo.
“Obviously there’s a lot of opposition to this – but we have to go through the process,” he said. “We’re just listening to one group of people, one side, and I know it’s a big group of people and I understand what they believe and where it’s coming from, but let’s give the other side a chance too, like we’re supposed to do under the rules. We’ll listen to them, then we’ll make our decision.”
Council directed administration to put together information on the municipal processes for wind farm construction, which will be distributed via mail, social media and local newspapers.
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