by Ben Forrest and Scott Nixon, Exeter Times-Advocate
HURON — A massive wind energy project has been proposed for Bluewater, South Huron and Lambton Shores.
NextEra, the largest generator of both wind and solar power in North America, is the company behind the project, which proposes three wind farms in Huron and Lambton counties, which could amount to 300 wind turbines and 490 megawatts of electricity, powering 144,000 homes. The projects will take place on mostly agricultural, private land.
NextEra held open houses in Zurich, Dashwood and Forest last week to explain the project to local residents and receive feedback. NextEra media relations specialist Josie Hernandez told the Times-Advocate the projects are in the beginning stages.
The three wind farms include:
o The Bluewater Wind Energy Centre between Highway 4 and an area east of Highway 21, which stretches from Bayfield Road to an area north of Zurich. The Bluewater wind farm would have a capacity of a maximum of 90 megawatts and would consist of 60 General Electric turbines or 39 Siemens turbines, enough power for 22,500 homes. NextEra, along with partner company Canadian Green Power, is also studying an area east of Highway 4 as an interconnection route.
o The Goshen Wind Energy Centre would have up to 106 GE turbines or 69 Siemens turbines, with a total generating capacity of up to 160 megawatts, powering 48,000 homes. It includes an area from the Zurich-Hensall Road south to Mount Carmel Drive/Greenway Road, from about four kilometres east of Zurich to Highway 21. A map supplied by NextEra does not show the study area extending west of Highway 21.
o The Jericho Wind Energy Centre is the largest of the three proposals and would have a capacity of 230 megawatts, including 153 GE turbines or 100 Siemens turbines. That proposal is situated in Lambton Shores roughly between Bog Line to the north and Forest and Arkona to the south, running between Forest and an area just east of Arkona.
Hernandez told the T-A there are pockets within the study area that could host turbines, with each turbine taking up about one acre of space.
She said Canadian Green Power, NextEra’s partner company, will work with landowners willing to lease a portion of their land to host a turbine, though it is still to be determined where the turbines will go.
NextEra is still in the study phases for the wind farms, and will perform bird, bat, watercourse, archeological and heritage studies. Local aboriginal groups will also be consulted.
Most of the studies will likely be completed in the fall and will be posted at www.canadianwindproposals.com for 60 days to allow for a public comment period.
Hernandez said each project will create four to six full-time jobs and 200 – 300 construction jobs. She said wind energy projects are an economic boost to the host communities and NextEra likes to hire locally as much as it can.
She added the company monitors its turbines around the clock to ensure they are working as well as possible.
A second open house will be held in the fall or winter and after the layout is finalized NextEra will make its application to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), which could take six months to review the application.
“It could be 2012 that we actually start construction at the earliest,” she said. “That’s if everything goes according to plan.”
Though some municipalities have balked at provincial regulations that could take certain decisions out of their hands when it comes to renewable energy projects, Hernandez said her company still plans to work with municipalities.
“We’re still planning on coming out and meeting with the local councillors, talking about what our plans are and keeping them informed.”
Hernandez also rebutted concerns about the health effects of wind turbines, which have been raised in some Ontario communities.
“If you’re a responsible developer and if you’re adhering to your setbacks and if you’re doing the right studies, you’re going to be fine,” she said.
“We have 9,000 turbines throughout North America, so if anybody would know if there are any health effects or any ill effects from these turbines, it would be us.”
She added the company has done many studies itself and has contracted out studies, finding nothing that has linked a wind turbine to any health issue.
Regarding the sound of the turbines, she compared it to the hum of a refrigerator and said the sound is “less than 40 decibels (from) a home.”
Hernandez said some people raise the issue of “vibro-acoustical, or . . . infra-sound that you can’t hear but you can feel.”
She said there are turbines that create infra-sound because of the way they’re shaped, but NextEra doesn’t have any of those.
“The ones that we have basically have blades that go in the front, and the ones that make the infra-sound have blades that go in the back that creates more of a vibration on the pole,” she said.
“Some people have said there are issues with that, and . . . I can understand why that would be, but none of our turbines have that sort of technology.”
NextEra is based in Juno, Fla., with Canadian operations in Burlington. It has wind centres in Quebec and Nova Scotia and hopes to start construction on projects in Wellington County and Haldimand County next year.