by Matthew Van Dongen, Hamilton Spectator
Flight safety concerns at the city airport may blow one of Canada’s largest planned wind farms out of the Hamilton area. Niagara Region Wind Corp. won a provincial green energy contract in February for a 230-megawatt wind farm. The $550-million, 80-turbine project is centred in West Lincoln, but the Oakville-based company has amassed contract options on properties extending towards Glanbrook, Haldimand, Wainfleet and Pelham.
The massive wind project is opposed by a vocal association of residents in West Lincoln and rural Hamilton who don’t want 150-metre-high turbines sprouting in their back yard.
They appear to have an unlikely ally: Nav Canada.
A March letter from the operator of Canada’s civil air navigation service, obtained by The Spectator, outlines flight safety concerns related to how Niagara Region Wind turbines might affect the use of radar at Hamilton airport.
“Due to the nature and significance of the negative impact on our capabilities and services, Nav Canada objects to this project moving forward,” the letter reads.
Deb Murphy is hoping the agency will prevent the big wind farm — or any other industrial wind project — from setting up shop near her Glanbrook home.
“We hope that the flight safety issue is going to pack in the turbines in the immediate area, anyway,” said Murphy, who helped create the Glanbrook Wind Action Group a year ago to fight a small five-turbine project just east of Woodburn.
That HAF Wind Energy project, which could erect turbines about four kilometres down the road from Murphy’s Guyatt Road home, has also caught Nav Canada’s attention.
Like her group members, Murphy said she fears the potential effects of a nearby industrial wind turbine on her health and property value.
But she added her mind “boggles” at the prospect of compromising air safety in the name of power production, green or otherwise.
“This (Nav Canada warning) … might help me and anyone else living along the flight path to the airport,” Murphy said.
Nav Canada’s worries won’t ground the Niagara Region Wind project, said spokesperson Randi Rahamim. But the whole project will likely be pushed further south and east of the airport as a result.
“It’s influenced our siting plans,” she said of the Nav Canada correspondence. “But we have land optioned in a whole bunch of places.”
The wind farm will still be centred in the Wellandport area of West Lincoln, Rahamim said, but properties closer to Hamilton or Lake Ontario are now “less likely” candidates.
By contrast, Wainfleet and Haldimand are getting a closer look.
Rahamim said it’s too early to identify specific turbine sites, but added a general “project area” map should be released in a week or two, followed by a formal provincial approval process. A two-year construction period can’t begin until that Renewable Energy Approval process is complete.
Rahamim hopes the new information, combined with the results of a pending property value study, will help alleviate community concerns. “We hope to have a very open, honest dialogue with the community,” she said.
Spokesperson Ron Singer said Nav Canada is “in discussions” with the would-be wind farm owners and confirmed the agency still has “proximity” concerns.
Singer wouldn’t elaborate on Nav Canada’s specific issues with the project.
The March letter from Nav Canada, however, lists potential “negative impacts” such as a “decrease in safety” for aircraft operating in the area and a reduced capability to identify and track “surveillance targets.”
It’s not clear how the turbine site shuffle will affect the number of industrial windmills destined for West Lincoln.
Upset residents in that community convinced the local council to call for a “moratorium” on new turbine construction until more health studies are completed on residents living near existing Ontario wind farms.
Mayor Doug Joyner said his residents and councillors are “frustrated” with the lack of information available for looming projects. “This is a contentious issue in our municipality,” he said. “We would really like some answers.”