“(Ministries are) not seen as regulators anymore. They’re seen as facilitators. They’re not doing any of the science any more,” Mattson said.”
By Paul Schliesmann, The Whig Standard
Kingston was approved for Ontario’s first offshore wind power project last week, yet no regulations exist governing where turbines can be installed or how far they must be from shorelines.
“The government is now working on establishing those standards. It’s a very new field,” said Ben Chin of the Ontario Power Authority, which granted the 300-megawatt project to Windstream Wolfe Island Shoals Inc. last week.
The 60-to 150-turbine offshore project will be built in a 19,200-hectare section of Lake Ontario bordered by Kingston, Amherst Island, Prince Edward County, the international water boundary with the U.S. and Wolfe Island.
Offshore turbine guidelines, Chin said, are still being considered.
“The provincial government is now working to establish those standards.”
Chin said approvals for renewable energy projects under the Feed-In Tariff program are granted to companies that can supply power fastest to the provincial electricity grid.
Last week’s announcement of the Kingston shoals wind farm — twice the capacity of the world’s largest sea-based facility off the coast of Denmark — took the environmental watchdog organization Lake Ontario Waterkeeper by surprise.
The group’s president, Mark Mattson, isn’t surprised by the fast-track approval process.
“(Ministries are) not seen as regulators anymore. They’re seen as facilitators. They’re not doing any of the science any more,” Mattson said.
The Windstream Wolfe Island Shoals Inc. wind farm was one of 184 renewable energy projects approved under the Feed-In Tariff program.
Companies are guaranteed fixed prices for their power for 20 years.
Chin said the provincial power grid has additional capacity for 2,500 megawatts, which will be filled by last week’s approvals.
Windstream has the distinction of being the first offshore project approved in Ontario and one of a handful in various stages of planning and development around North America.
The company is owned by Ian Baines, an engineer who spearheaded the 86-turbine project on Wolfe Island before selling it to an Alberta company.
Baines told theWhig-Standardthat he envisioned 60 five-mega -watt turbines for the shoals project, but the final number will depend on the size of the machines chosen. They range from two to five megawatts each.
Mattson said Waterkeeper will be watching a number of issues, including navigation and safety for recreational boaters, proximity to commercial shipping lanes, the effects on bird habitat and the cumulative effect of wind turbines on the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands region.
Thousands of wind turbines are expected to be built in eastern Ontario and northern New York state over the next decade.
Mattson said he is puzzled by how the Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt area are exempted from turbine development in the province’s new Green Energy Act, yet Wolfe Island, an important migratory bird location, and the Thousand Islands aren’t protected.
“If the proper siting and scale of these projects were considered they would be sited in other areas,” he said. “It should all be on the table and shown why this was awarded before a press release (was issued).”
According to an environment ministry official, Windstream must still obtain:
* Site lease approval for Crown land rights to the 19,200 hectares beneath Lake Ontario from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
* An environmental assessment and approval from the federal government.
* Renewable energy approval from the Ministry of the Environment.
An ministry official confirmed yesterday that Baines has not been cleared to develop the site. She said the company will have to produce studies showing effects on fish habitat, coastal erosion and other concerns and it will have to go through public consultations.
Mattson said his experience in opposing the Wolfe Island wind farm is that public influence over renewable energy projects is limited.
“They call it public process but it’s not. We saw that on Wolfe Island.
They never even got a hearing,” he said. “It’s whatever the proponent wants. They can even back date the approval.”
Mattson said Wolfe Island residents who questioned the wind farm had a difficult time getting information.
“The biggest lesson on Wolfe Island was the process of public consultation. You can’t just drop it on people’s laps and expect them to take what’s given,” he said.
The presence of the turbines on Wolfe Island, he added, will allow people in the Kingston area to better understand the scale of what is being proposed offshore.
“This issue has just finally reached a critical mass. They know where Wolfe Island is. They know what the turbines look like,” Mattson said.
Baines told the Whig-Standard last week that his 60 turbines would be more widely spaced than those on Wolfe Island and further from residences.
“We are not planning on building them close to shore,” he said. “My feeling is five kilometres would be close to shore.”
The world’s largest offshore wind turbine project began operating last year in the North Sea off Denmark. Horns Rev 2 will produce up to 160 megawatts of electricity, about half of what is proposed for Kingston.
The Danish project has 91 turbines located 30 kilometres from the nearest shoreline.
In the U.S., the company Cape Wind has yet to receive federal approval for a 130-turbine, 420-megawatt project off Nantucket, Mass. According to the Cape Wind website, the closest turbines will be eight kilometres from shore.
Chin said that Baines will have to schedule his project so he knows exactly what the setback regulations from shore are before the turbines go into the water — and still meet the four-year deadline.
Mattson said such regulations should already be in place.
“My concern is this is the way energy decisions are going to be made,” he said. “We’re in a new era where public process is seen as red tape. They really don’t see the public consultation process as something that’s helpful.”
Chin said the approval granted to Windstream last week shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, including Waterkeeper and the people on Wolfe Island.
“We don’t publish the names of each and every applicant until they become the contract holder,” he said.
“I don’t think there would be one operator out there not known in their local area.”
Mattson said his organization will try to make details about the shoal wind project known to the public.
“We’re going to be involved. We’ll make sure the siting is appropriate,” he said.
“The lake is ours. It’s our drinking water for the next 100 years. It’s recreational. The public has to protect the lake. We all own the lake.”