SPRINGHILL, N.S. – Cumberland County is moving closer to prohibiting the development of wind turbines in the Wentworth Valley.
The municipality’s planning and development department has brought forward its recommendations on a new land-use bylaw for wind turbines and is considering adding the valley, that runs along the Cumberland and Colchester County line, to its restricted overlay.
“I attended a couple of open sessions on wind turbines in Cumberland and Colchester counties and it was very clear there is little, if any, support for wind turbines in the Wentworth Valley area,” Cumberland County Mayor Murray Scott said. “There is an option to extend that layered zone into entire Wentworth area, but we’re going to get some public feedback over the next few weeks before it comes to council for a decision.”
Public comments are being accepted until May and Scott is hopeful council will be in a position to implement the recommendations as early as June.
In January, the municipality instituted a six-month moratorium on wind turbine development in the entire county as it worked to update its land-use bylaws surrounding wind farms.
The moratorium, which was later repeated by Colchester County, came amid concerns from opponents of a 100-megawatt wind farm on Higgins Mountain that will straddle the border between the two counties.
Representatives of Protect Wentworth Valley feel the exclusion zone is a good. They are advocating against a proposed 100-megawatt project on Higgins Mountain as well as another 100-megawatt project on the Colchester County side of the valley near Hart Lake.
“It is welcome news, but it’s a little unclear as to the extent of the inclusion zone. That would be important to understand fully,” group member Dr. Joanna Zed said. “We want to hear more about it.”
The group is preparing its submission to the county and recently completed a video including statements from Wentworth residents (https://drive.google.com/file/d/181s1f3GVytcEZHyGz23ZPvqT9xGt7RlQ/view).
Zed and Heather Allen-Johnson said the group is not against wind energy, but protecting moose habitat and the vital moose corridor through the valley should be paramount.
“We’re trying to raise awareness and protect the Wentworth Valley against the destruction of the ecological and biological diversity as well as the human aspect in the way that area is enjoyed,” Allen-Johnson said. “This is against irrevocable change.”
Protect Wentworth Valley, which hosted a virtual meeting in February, is calling on the province to declare the entire valley a wilderness area. It’s not against wind development, Zed said, just not in the Wentworth Valley.
“A deep dive is required by the province into projects like this that will change the landscape of the Valley and other areas of Nova Scotia,” Zed said. “We need projects like this, but we need to consider where they’re going and the implications for the areas where they’re going, and for this area there is a lot at stake.”
Allen-Johnson said sacrificing the environment to save the environment is “irrational.”
Paul Pynn of Higgins Mount Wind Farm said the company will be filing comments as part of Cumberland County’s review.
“The planning policies both encourage renewable energy in Cumberland County and at the same time identify areas inappropriate for wind farm development and provide guidelines to minimize conflicts,” Pynn said in an email. “Any additional restrictions must be grounded in evidence and good planning practice.
“We believe strongly that our proposed wind project located on previously logged land on Higgins and Stevens Mountain has been carefully designed with significant community input and we will meet or exceed all environmental and regulatory requirements. Rather than retract from, this project can provide a benefit to local tourism initiatives as is the case around the world.”
Last fall, during hearings into a county plan for a six-month moratorium on wind projects, Pynn cautioned against the moratorium saying the wholesale review would put projects in Cumberland County at a disadvantage in relation to other counties in Nova Scotia.
“This will send a strong signal to developers around the world that it is risky to develop good and responsible clean energy projects in the county. We believe this could drive good projects and their benefits to other counties,” Pynn told the county during the hearing.
Other recommendations include requiring public engagement for large wind turbine projects, including property owners within two kilometres of a proposed site, and at least three public meetings.
It would also require wind developers to notify the county of any meteorological testing.
The county also has to be satisfied the turbines will provide economic benefit to the local community, sets out a process for the municipality of review wind turbine regulations every 10 years and will set minimum setbacks for various turbine sizes – varying from 75 meters from habitable structures for smaller turbines, to 200 metres for medium turbines and 750 metres for larger turbines of more than 100 metres in height.
“There are all kinds of thoughts on this with people calling for everywhere from a kilometre to five kilometres,” Scott said. “What we have to be careful of is if we go too far there will be no development in Cumberland County. We can’t let that happen because it just wouldn’t be fair.”
As well, larger turbine projects would have to be approved by council through a development agreement.
The recommendations also require a bond/surety, or other guarantee, for 125 per cent of the cost of turbine removal and site remediation.
“We don’t want to stop all projects because there are some where there is little, or any, opposition,” Scott said. “We have to listen to what citizens are saying and there’s a pretty strong case being made for that by the people of Wentworth area.”
Scott said the county has received hundreds of submissions on the issue.
“There’s a strong message out there and for a lot of reasons,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of development in the Wentworth area. There are plans for the skill hill as well. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”
In the document presented to council, the planners said the public engagement to date has told them large turbines are not compatible with the eco-tourism goals of the community and there are also calls to exclude turbines from the area to protect a core moose habitat. However, they said, the entire county has been identified as a moose habitat and it could exclude turbines from the entire county.
“Additionally, if council were to designate an area as ecologically significant, it may have unwarranted implications on future development in the area,” the planners said in their report to council.
It’s also possible the county could determine the Wentworth Valley as a culturally significant area – a place that means a great deal to people.
“That might be residents living in the area, or visitors, or seasonal residents that come to enjoy the peace, scenery and recreation opportunities. It is a place that can generate strong emotions and that contributes significantly to people’s well-being, not only in terms of providing jobs and resources but also a less tangible, non-material level,” the report said. “Culturally significant areas can be a place of imagination and adventure or a spiritual place. It can also be seen as the last remnants of wilderness, a place where human influence is less obvious and a place that still holds secrets.”
It’s something the planners say council will have to weigh against the necessity of developing clean, renewable energy and support of the wind development industry in Cumberland County. If Wentworth is to be excluded, it suggests the exclusion be limited geographically to as small an area as possible.
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