By Cheryl Heath, Clinton News Record
In a marked departure from the typical Central Huron Planning Advisory Committee with an empty gallery, hundreds of area residents had to be packed into the REACH Centre Auditorium Jan. 20, for a scheduled presentation by wind developer Chuck Edey.
While the delegation, officially provided by Leader Resources on its two scheduled projects for the area, was for information purposes’ only and not for any decision by council, it nonetheless proved to draw a standing room-only crowd, most of whom proved to be against the idea of industrial wind turbines coming to the municipality.
In addressing the scope of the two projects at the behest of PAC chairman Dave Jewitt, as Reeve James Ginn declared a conflict on the issue, Edey acknowledges being well aware that the topic at hand has provoked the passions of area residents.As such, says Edey, his Kincardine-based company, which is owned by the American Wind Alliance, is endeavouring to do its part to communicate with and invest in Central Huron.
So far, says Edey, the company has made more than $450,000 in landowner payments and spent $6 million in project development. Further, he says, Leader Resources is creating jobs for local residents.
“Our vendor list in this area is substantive,” says Edey, noting that so far more than 100 contractors have expressed interest in the construction projects.
As it stands, says Edey, the Holmesville-area project is the top priority as the Summerhill one is still moving through the regulatory process.
Since the province recently granted the Goderich Township project a priority ranking, the construction phase is expected to start as early as the end of 2011 or the first quarter of 2012.
In attempting to address concerns, Edey reports his company has conducted “numerous” seasonal bird studies, completed environmental mapping of the project area, and conducted archeological assessments where, in all, three artifacts were found, including half an arrowhead.
“Those have been logged and they are in an area which we will avoid,” says Edey, noting the company has also held meeting with First Nations’ groups and completed noise modeling that was reviewed by Golder & Associates.
At the end of the day, Edey says the Holmesville area project will include 60 turbines, resulting in $96,000 worth of building permits, an annual tax levy of about $168,000, a tax levy on the land itself of $336,000 and $1.2 million in annual payouts to landowners.
In referencing his company’s earlier projects, including the one in Ripley, Edey says it is important to understand there are new guidelines in place that his company intends to follow.
“There are Best Practices to be considered,” says Edey, noting there would be substantial differences to the Ripley and Enbridge projects if they were undertaken today.
Edey also notes CANWEA, the umbrella organization for wind companies, is undertaking a series of advertisements designed to show ratepayers the positive side of wind projects.
Edey adds he is well aware that there are a number of concerns with wind farms.
“We believe both sides have to have a dialogue,” he says, noting a consortium is being formed to discuss wind projects along the lakeshore.
Still, says Edey, it is his belief that the “silent majority” supports wind farms.
“We believe there is broad support for wind energy,” he says, adding a signage campaign is about to begin so wind energy supporters can spread the word, ‘I’m for wind power.’
During a question-and-answer session open only to councillors, Coun. Brian Barnim first posed a three-part question to Edey, including, “How does this affect you, except financially?”
Edey says as a former Ontario Hydro employee and as someone who has been in the energy sector for decades, he has seen, first hand, what coal can do to the environment.
“I believe it (wind energy) is the right thing for the farm. I believe it’s the right thing for the country. I believe it’s the right thing for the planet,” he says.
When Barnim asked Edey how he thinks wind farms will impact the community, Edey acknowledges there will be strife.
“I am well aware that neighbours feel differently,” he says. “It’s a different milk cheque, if you will.”
“Is there an annoyance factor? The answer is yes,” says Edey.
But, says Edey, the controversy is temporary.
“What we see is this will pass,” says Edey, noting, “I am disappointed that we’re having signs at either side of the road.”
When Barnim suggested wind energy is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, Edey disagreed.
“The electrical infrastructure of Ontario is broken. If you don’t know that, you’re not reading,” he says.
Coun. Burkhard Metzger, who received the most support of all three West Ward councillors in the recent municipal election, suggested Edey was blowing hot air, and that the fact that those who oppose large-scale wind farms were elected shows the community’s support is not there.
While Metzger first presented a preamble that proved to irk Edey, Metzger ultimately asked why the wind company was now presenting an amicable approach to the situation when it was at first very blustery and telling landowners that “it is a done deal, get used to it.”
“You are here because you realize the grassroots movement is against it,” says Metzger.
Metzger also challenged Eddy to agree to take out property value protection policies on all of the impacted landowners within the footprint of wind farms in order to assure landowners that turbines will not decrease land values.
While Edey took time out to address Metzger’s tone and to suggest running an election on one issue is “an atrocity,” he also said his company would not take on Metzger’s challenge.
“I believe what you’re asking is unreasonable,” says Edey.
Coun. Alex Westerhout also questioned whether the company has reviewed the perils of wind energy.
“It’s sure easy to look at all the positive when you are the ones making all the money,” notes Westerhout.
When asked whether the company will undertake a health study to gauge the health impacts associated with wind farms, Edey says the project would require too much time.
“I don’t believe most people understand what a health study is… it requires 15 years of baseline study and then the turbines would have to come in,” says Edey. “We’re trying to be good corporate citizens. We have talked to physicians, we have talked to doctors.”
When Westerhout suggested, as was first proposed by former UWO Dean of Medicine Dr. Rob McMurtry, that a proper health study could be conducted within one year for $2 million, Edey says the company has already been in consultations.
Edey also pledged that at least two more town hall style meetings will be held before the Goderich Township project is in the ground.
In an interview after the meeting, John Brand, a Tipperary Line resident was one of the few wind energy proponents at the session, says there is far too much rhetoric being spewed from both sides.
Brand, a farmer, says people are forgetting about past issues, like the farm income crisis, which showed there was a need for new programs to help farmers.
“This helps rural Ontario, people are forgetting that,” says Brand. “There is a lot of rhetoric. That’s all it is.”
Brand says he feels frustrated by the fact that wind opponents are attempting to cloak their personal dislike of turbines in weak arguments.
Brand says it is also unfair for councillors to question wind developers’ potential revenue since the same types of questions aren’t asked when an individual applies to build a pig barn, which also has an impact on neighbouring properties.