by David Meyer, Wellington Advertiser
MAPLETON TWP. – When township council here considered what comments to make to the province about conditions for permitting an industrial wind farm near Arthur, councillor Neil Driscoll said turbines should be shut down immediately if they interfere with GPS users.
At a special meeting on June 21 to consider possible conditions, Driscoll told council the wind industry should not be permitted to interfere with modern farming practices.
Councillor Mike Downey supported Driscoll’s statement, and soon, so did all other councillors.
They were working their way through a commenting document to set conditions for the province, although Mapleton’s was so big there were dozens of extra pages beyond what the province offered. The township is facing a request for NextEra Energy Canada’s Conestogo Wind Energy Centre Project.
The extra comments and requests for conditions were compiled by Chief Administrative Officer Patty Sinnamon from a number of sources, many from the United States, which has far more stringent rules than Ontario.
One of the suggestions was, “If any television, cell phone, internet or broadcast radio frequency interference is shown to be created by the Wind Energy Centre, NextEra shall use commercially reasonable efforts to mitigate any problems on a case by case basis.”
Downey suggested the words be changed so the clause reads, “turned off until the problem is solved.” He said without a required shutdown, the company could simply say it tried and was unable to prevent interference.
Driscoll said it was necessary for the township to insist upon that, rather than pitting “little Joe Farmer against NextEra. If they say ‘two weeks’ I don’t have two weeks.”
Driscoll said in a later interview that GPS equipment “auto steers” farm machinery in fields. He said someone is in the tractor, but it is GPS satellite technology that runs it. It also determines the amounts of spraying a machine does.
If GPS is interfered with by a turbine, he said farmers are effectively forced to shut down their operation.
“It would lose track of where you were in the field,” he said. “It could throw the seeding off. You could lose combine rates of yield.”
The GPS works with satellite technology, and Driscoll said the technology on farms is similar to what people might have in their cars, but, “It’s just far more enhanced.”
He estimated over 75 per cent of farmers use “some type of GPS – in our spraying, in our tractors and combines. So what happens if my GPS does go down? It’s pretty hard to run without it now. We’ve become reliant on the system.”
Driscoll said satellites can give a reading of the strengths of a signal, and could tell if interference is coming from a wind turbine (that is something some wind energy companies acknowledge, and they have it included in contracts they sign with host farmers).
Driscoll also agreed with Mayor Bruce Whale, who noted all the land for the NextEra project is class one farmland.
“That’s the worst part,” Driscoll said. “This is class one farmland that can’t be replaced.”
In the past, the Ministry of Agriculture, through the provincial government, has tried to protect class one agricultural lands.
Sinnamon reminded council the county’s rural broadband project is due to come on line in September. She wondered how the township can determine if turbines are causing interference. Councillor Jim Curry said it is easy. “What was working is not.”
Sinnamon wondered about a shut down for cell phones.
Driscoll said, “If the cell phone is your lifeline … ”
Sinnamon asked how anyone can determine interference by a turbine.
Whale said, “Anyone who could do an analysis probably could … each provider has a way of measuring range.”
Driscoll said the satellite “can probably tell you what is interfering. TV providers can tell you if somebody is interfering.”
Curry said council should check other areas. “I’ve heard there have been problems.”
Whale said the township can determine what service is like before the arrival of turbines, and then afterwards.
Sinnamon said if the township insists there be no interference, it should set a deadline for how long the company will have to prove it does not interfere. She suggested five years.
Whale said council will have to set a length, and “We should know soon.”
Curry said residents hosting turbines “waive these issues.”
Council also went through numerous conditions to protect its roads from large and heavy machinery.
It insisted when NextEra has to dig under roads for electrical wires, it has to bore under paved roads, but it can dig up gravel roads. The elevations shall be approved by the township’s engineers.
As well, the township wants 18-inch culverts used where the road is dug for conduits.
Council wants also to be reimbursed for all inspection costs for the roads, prior to NextEra using them, and afterwards, with a limit of one year to determine settling. It wants the company to repair any damaged road base to a depth of 18 inches. Driscoll said there is a heritage road on part of the section NextEra will have to travel.
Public Works Director Larry Lynch said that road, Sideroad 17, will have to be brought back to original condition, including such things as tree canopy, and to its original narrow width.
Lynch said the township heritage committee probably won’t want it touched at all. “Once you affect the integrity, it isn’t a heritage road any more.”
Whale said the township will need a report on that issue.
“Let’s investigate. Confirm the identity – confirm what can and cannot happen.”
Driscoll said some road allowances are unopened in winter, and are used only by snowmobile clubs. He said he would be unwilling to allow the wind company to open those roads, and it could use access by snowmobile – if it has paid a trail fee.
Lynch said if the company, needs access, the township could always “open the road up – at a cost.”
Councillor Andy Knetsch wondered how the company could get emergency personnel to its turbines.
Whale said that will have to be part of its emergency plan.
Lynch said it is no different than Conestogo Lake, where people are responsible for their own access in winter.
Whale said to make sure that is in the agreement.
Council agreed there will likely be some disruption when the company brings in the turbine sections and the heavy cranes to build them. It insisted farmers know well in advance what days the company will be taking machinery on township roads.
Driscoll was unhappy about farmers being unable to use township roads for long periods. “If it still takes the whole day, it doesn’t help us,” he said.
Lynch said there could be breakdowns, and wondered how the township could deny use of the road if moving turbines takes longer than expected. “We have to be careful and show due diligence and not make it too onerous,” Lynch said. “What happens if they’re a day late? Does that mean they can’t come in the next day?”
On the other hand, he understood Driscoll’s point about interrupting busy farmers if they get a good day to work.
“It’s shouldn’t be a hardship on the landowner. I think that’s what councillor Driscoll is saying,” Lynch concluded.
When it came to shadow flicker, the township noted trees can be planted as a block of the tower’s shadow.
Curry said trees must be evergreen types. In the United States, some companies planted trees that lost leaves and those were useless blocking shadow flicker. When it came to completing the project, council insisted the company remove much of the turbine’s concrete base. Council wants two metres of cement taken out, and that hole filled with topsoil so the land can be returned to farm.
The township is also going to be requiring letters of credit worth thousands of dollars to guarantee that all the liabilities of NextEra are covered.
That includes the scrap metal. It wants NextEra to bring a report to council on the value of scrap metal every three years. In many cases, the farmers can claim the scrap metal once the turbines have finished their contracts.
When it came to insurance for turbines in case of accident, Knetsch wanted to increase it from $500,000 per turbine to $1-million.
Driscoll said there could be “millions in environmental degradation. How far is that going to go? Suppose it blows up and spreads over two acres?”
Acting Building Inspector David Kopp said he wants the company to send the township proof of insurance every year it operates.
Whale said there should also be “spill insurance.” He said the problem is the township does not know what is in the landowner agreement.”
Sinnamon said that the U.S. agreements are becoming far more detailed as people there gain experience with turbines.
Knetsch said the township could use an actuary to determine what the costs might be down the road. He was concerned with “an environmental disaster. Who’s going to pay for that?”
Driscoll said council must be wary because the company is unlikely to pay for costs down the road it has not agreed in advance. “I don’t believe you’ll get it from them later.”
Council agreed it will ask for property values to be guaranteed within 5km of the turbines. Sinnamon said NextEra has stated there is no drop off in property values, but in the U.S. the company was asked to guarantee property values.
She said the company has entered into agreements on that in the U.S., “So they are [guaranteeing property values].”
Council’s debate on the issues lasted nearly four hours.
Afterwards, it also accepted a document from area residents who have listed their own concerns about the turbines.
The township has a deadline of July 9 to comment to the province, and if it meets that deadline, it can also comment further.