by Lindsay Kelly Manitoulin Expositor
LITTLE CURRENT—Questions have arisen surrounding the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm following a request for more information from the Ministry of the Environment, but proponents say it’s a normal part of the process that ensures the company is meeting all the requirements for a successful project.
On June 14, project proponent Northland Power received a request for additional information from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) on its renewable energy approval (REA) submission, which was sent to the ministry in mid-May.
Ray Beaudry, an opponent of the wind farm and a founding member of the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA), received this information in a conversation with a staff member in the MOE’s approvals branch, and suggests this request indicates the company has not met all the ministry’s requirements for the project.
“The REA must include all documents in table 1 of the REA and all requirements of a class 4 wind farm project,” he says in an email. “A detailed list has been provided to Northland Power to complete.”
The Green Bush resident disagrees with giving a company repeated opportunities to submit its REA, suggesting that a company can gradually alter it to meet the requirements, because it is the government’s mandate to push wind project through as part of its renewable energy platform.
“How many chances do they get?” he questioned. “Why let the public comment if they’re not going to listen to our concerns?”
But the project’s manager, Rick Martin, disagrees with this view, saying that it is a misinterpretation of the process.
“The statement that our REA has been returned is an absolute untruth,” he counters. “It has not been returned. It was accepted and is going through its preliminary stages of review.”
This part of the development is referred to as the clarification screening process, during which it is customary for the ministry to seek clarification on areas of the project Northland is developing to ensure it meets the requirements of the Green Energy Act, he says.
The ministry is specifically looking at the comments submitted by members of the public and trying to verify that Northland has addressed the questions posted on the environmental registry in areas such as setbacks from properties and vacant properties, the height of a turbine from an adjacent property, and how the environmental aspect is reviewed, Mr. Martin explains, noting, “they have to make sure that these things are met.”
The project manager suggests that the ministry has received valuable information from the public, which is welcome by the company. “It’s listened to and changes have been made accordingly,” he says, suggesting that the company has no reason to believe its REA isn’t sound, as it’s received positive feedback from the ministry.
Mr. Beaudry remains skeptical, noting that wind companies are given ample time to meet the requirements. Each project comes with a commencement date by which the company anticipates being operational via its contract with the Ontario Power Authority, but the REA remains valid for up to five years regardless of how many alterations are made.
Mr. Beaudry claims he was told that “you can be involved in the process as much as possible, but the mandate is that they’ll push these (wind projects) through.”
“You feel like you’re part of the process, like you have some say, but really they’re not addressing your concerns,” he laments. “It’s frustrating; this is not the way a democratic society should work.”
Mr. Martin assures that Northland has met all requirements to date, and that it is compliant with all Green Energy Act standards. He acknowledges that there is a deadline by which companies are expected to start their contracts with the OPA, but says that does not affect their standing with the ministry.
“There is a deadline on the OPA contract and they are deadlines the government and the companies want to meet if at all possible, but it has to be done in an orderly and responsible way,” he says.
He adds that Northland is keen to enter into a dialogue with the surrounding First Nations, but that First Nations are still seeking consultation with the Crown, something the stakeholders continue to work towards. “Our doors are open,” Mr. Martin says.
While debate over the Northland project ensued, the Ontario government announced last Friday that it is going ahead with the next phase of its wind-energy renewal program, introducing a list of proposed requirements for off-shore wind projects that include 5-kilometre setbacks from shore and a “stringent and comprehensive application process.”
The public now has 60 days to make comments on the proposal, which can be found on the Ontario Environmental Registry under registry number 011-0089. Public consultation sessions will be held across Ontario in the fall, with dates and locations to be announced on the Ontario government website.