NORTHUMBERLAND NEWS By Peg McCarthy
ALNWICK/HALDIMAND TOWNSHIP — Although it has been half a year since the last public meeting about a proposed wind farm project, behind the scenes both a citizens group and the company heading the project have been busy.
“I know the community has been wondering what’s happening,” said Gwyer Moore, a member of the Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills, a group opposing the wind turbines in the former Haldimand Township. “But we’ve spent an enormous time, one-on-one, with anyone who falls within the study area who will talk with us.”
The study area under scrutiny for the wind farm is bordered by Wilson Drive east to County Rd. 23, and Cranberry Lake Road north to Centreton Road. Energy Farming Ontario has proposed a 20 megawatt project, dubbed the ‘Clean Breeze Wind Farm’, with up to 20, 70- to 100-metre high wind turbines, which will produce 2 to 2.5 megawatts of electricity each. Each turbine tower is held in place with huge pads of rebar and between two to six million pounds of concrete, after securing lease agreements with landowners.
“Our approach is a practical one, but it’s quite invisible,” said Mr. Moore. “The crux is the setback, and the effect all this may have on property values.”
If enough people don’t lease their land to the company, the project cannot go forward, he said. The group has hired legal counsel, and Mr. Moore said they have strong financial support from a limited number of people. The handful of people who have already signed are bound by a confidentiality agreement not to talk about their leases, he added.
Energy Farming Ontario Director Kelly Campbell said Wednesday that the project is well underway, with enough lease options in place to proceed.
“We’re aware of the opposition and know they’ve contacted a lawyer,” said Ms. Campbell. “Ontario has set its guidelines and regulations, and we’re following those. We’re satisfied with their (the province’s) expertise. It’s the nature of some people to question.”
Mr. Moore said his committee is not happy with the provincial guidelines.
“We want to make sure people understand what might happen, and where the risks might be in relation to their homes,” said Mr. Moore, whose Grills Road property falls about dead centre of the proposed wind farm.
The resident, along with other committee members, is concerned the province’s Green Energy Act setback requirement of 550 metres is not sufficient to block out the throbbing noise of the turbines, and the high pitched noise of the electrical transformers.
In addition, he is unhappy about potential health hazards from infrasound, lower frequency sound that has been said to cause health issues, like headaches, heart disease, tinnitus, nausea and non-specific symptoms of ill-health that will not go away unless a person leaves the area. He admits the health issue is difficult to prove because there is little consistency, with only some people affected, but apparently quite seriously, and there is limited research on the health effects of low frequency sound.
Ms. Campbell said there is no clear scientific evidence about the health hazards of low frequency sound, but added there have been cases where the annoying sound of the turbines has led to psychological and other health issues.
Emphasizing the Alliance is not against wind energy per se, the group feels the setback distance should be doubled for safety reasons. Faced with the long process of trying to change provincial legislation, the Alliance has instead decided to focus on local landowners, talking one-on-one with as many as they can, educating them on current information about wind energy.
There are 40 other communities in Ontario fighting wind turbines projects, and some of them are lobbying Queen’s Park for changes to legislation, Mr. Moore said.
Energy Farming Ontario has a few hurdles before the project can be launched. A power purchase agreement has yet to be finalized with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). The company is looking for a 20-year fixed price agreement with the OPA, to establish a firm market for its electricity under the Feed-In Tarrif program for renewable energy projects.
The final hurdle is the renewable energy approval process under the province’s Green Energy Act, where planning and permits are negotiated. There will also be consultation with the municipality about various issues, like emergency service agreements, said Ms. Campbell.
“Ideally, we’re looking at two years, but realistically, it will probably be three,” said Ms. Campbell. “We’re confident we have everything in place.”
The Alliance for the Protection of Northumberland Hills is planning to distribute a newsletter in February.