By Gary Rennie, The Windsor Star
HARROW – A billion dollars worth of wind turbine projects have power contracts in Essex County and close to 200 turbines could be up within a few years.
The $110-million International Power Canada wind turbine project was the first to officially start up Friday, but not without protests that show discord within the community hasn’t disappeared during years of planning.
The silvery, carbon-fibre blades of the 24 turbines were turning gently in a light breeze and a deer sauntered across a farm field just before the speeches began.
Essex MP Jeff Watson announced a $11.2-million federal grant to the company to be paid out over 10 years.
“This project is an excellent example of a clean energy technology creating high-quality jobs and a sustainable energy source for Ontario’s future,” Watson said.
A few hundred metres away on the shoulder of County Road 20 a group of a dozen protestors carried signs complaining about rising taxes and electrical rates from all the federal and provincial subsidies going into green energy projects.
Essex Mayor Ron McDermott told the 150 people gathered at the construction centre that most residents are supporting renewable power projects that promise cleaner air. “I hope the Harrow wind farm is a lasting success,” he said.
Out with the protesters, mayoral candidate Brenda Dunn wasn’t convinced tax-subsidized turbines were something to brag about.
Murdo McLean, whose farm hosts three turbines, praised the professionalism of the wind developer in dealing with property owners who leased their lands. He described the four years it took to get the turbines up as a “four-year pregnancy.”
His cousin Colette McLean, also a farmer, was among the protestors. “This is a rape of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “This is a very big boondoggle.”
Although their farms are adjacent, the two cousins don’t talk to each other any more because of their differences over wind energy.
Colette McLean’s backyard is about 600 metres from the turbines on her cousin’s farm. The turbines are close enough to be heard outside, but are not yet disturbing her sleep, she said.
The OPP provincial liaison team sent one plainclothes officer to keep an eye on the mostly middle-aged protestors.
Dunn said she joined the protest mainly because she objected to the OPP questioning Colette McLean last week about plans for a protest that didn’t yet exist. Without the OPP’s intrusion, there likely wouldn’t have been a protest at all, Dunn said.
Capable of generating 39.6 megawatts of electricity, the Harrow wind farm isn’t yet connected to Ontario’s power grid. That’s expected to happen within days.
Company president Mike Crawley said the wind farm would generate just over 100,000 megawatt hours of power annually. The company is paid $135 for each megawatt hour or 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in the 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority.
Crawley said wind turbines are getting more efficient in producing power as they increase in size and the blades move more precisely to track the wind.
“Essex County has an incredible wind resource,” Crawley tells his audience. His company’s other big project in Essex County is a $136-million, 27-turbine wind farm in the Stoney Point area of Lakeshore.
Aaron Van Ooteghen came from Norfolk County with a sign complaining about the noise from turbines from an International Power project there. The audible noise and inaudible low frequency noise caused him and his mother to move out of their farmhouse, he said.
Numerous complaints to the Ontario Ministry of Environment about the turbine noise haven’t led to a solution, Van Ooteghen said.
Essex Coun. Ron Rogers, also a mayoral candidate, wanted to see bigger setbacks in his town between turbines and homes. Council agreed on 450 metres, but Rogers argued for at least 550 metres — the number the province’s Green Energy Act eventually settled on.
A year after council debated the setback issue, Rogers still doesn’t see much consensus about the standards needed to protect residents from noise impacts.
But with the Green Energy Act, the province now has complete control over approval of renewable energy projects. Rogers doesn’t see wind turbines being a big issue in the October municipal election.