By MARIAN SCOTT, The Gazette May 4, 2010, montrealgazette.com
A report by Quebec’s environmental review agency slams a proposed wind project in central Quebec for shutting local residents out of the planning process.
The 100-megawatt Érable wind farm is scheduled to go into production next year near St. Ferdinand, 200 kilometres east of Montreal.
The report by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) said the 50 wind turbines, which are 138 metres tall, would affect residents’ living environment by altering the landscape and replacing nature’s soundtrack with the swishing of blades.
However, “doubts persist about the economic benefits of the project” for local communities, noted the 158-page report by commissioner Lucie Bigué, which was made public Friday.
The wind farm also could lower real-estate values and hurt tourism, added the report, which proposed holding a referendum to consult local residents.
The report sends a cautionary message to the Charest government on the implementation of its ambitious plan to make Quebec a wind-energy leader.
Wind-power projects should respect the principles of the province’s sustainable-development law, which requires local residents to take part in decision-making, notes the report’s conclusion.
“Participation of communities in the planning and decision-making process constitute a key factor in whether or not to permit the building of a wind project, particularly in an inhabited area,” it said.
“The promoter has taken the risk of implanting its project in an inhabited rural area without involving the public from the first planning stages,” it added.
In 2008, Premier Jean Charest announced contracts to build 15 wind farms totalling 2,000 megawatts – enough to supply about 500,000 homes – over six years. They will join eight wind farms in Gaspé that were previously approved.
By 2015, 10 per cent of the province’s total electricity capacity will come from wind, according to Hydro-Québec. (However, wind turbines operate at only about one-third of capacity, so wind will actually represent three to four per cent of the electricity produced.)
But over the past year, Quebec’s big leap into green energy has run into turbulence.
Plans for a 68-megawatt wind farm in Ste. Luce in the Lower St. Lawrence region were cancelled last year in the face of local opposition.
Residents of the Charlevoix region have been fighting a 74-megawatt wind farm near a provincial park that is a nesting place for endangered golden eagles.
In the Thetford Mines region, residents are bitterly divided over a proposed 78-turbine wind project near the hamlet of Kinnear’s Mills. In January, BAPE recommended a referendum be held on the project.
Diane Paquin, chief of communications at BAPE, said the Érable wind farm has created deep rifts in the community.
The project has sparked conflict because the region is inhabited, unlike the majority of previous wind-farm sites, she said.
“It makes a big difference if you are going to see (wind turbines) from your window,” she said.
The lack of consultation contributed to raising citizens’ ire, she added.
“Social relations have deteriorated and there is no improvement in sight.”
Simon Jean-Yelle, a spokesperson for Enerfin, a Spanish company developing the Érable wind farm, said the company has taken note of BAPE report’s criticisms and will make more of an effort to reach out to the community.
“There is never unanimity over wind projects,” Jean-Yelle said. “We have good support from the population.”
Yelle said he was surprised about BAPE’s doubts over the project’s economic benefits. Landowners will receive $8,000 annually per wind turbine and the local regional municipality will reap $100,000 a year.
Pierre Séguin, a spokesperson for the Regroupement pour le développement durable des Appalaches, a citizens’ group that opposes the wind farm, welcomed the report.
“This project has caused a lot of suffering,” said Séguin, adding 40 local residents have sought treatment for stress-related health problems related to the conflict over the wind farm.
He said his group has long called for a referendum over the issue. However, now he fears a referendum campaign would only deepen divisions within the community. Also, local citizens’ pockets are not as deep as those of the company for publicity, he said.
Séguin added that with the BAPE report, Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau has all the information she needs to cancel the project.
Normandeau said yesterday she had not yet read the report.
Dave Leclerc, press attaché to Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Line Beauchamp, who is responsible for BAPE, said Beauchamp will not comment on the report until after her department conducts an environmental assessment of the project. He said that could take anywhere from a few months to a year.
Jean-Claude Simard, a professor of philosophy and the history of science at CEGEP de Rimouski and Université du Québec à Rimouski, said the report marks a turning point in the wind-energy debate. Until now, local residents’ complaints over the impact of large wind projects have rarely been heard, he said. “This the most severe criticism of a wind project we have heard from BAPE,” he added.