On Thursday April 9, local townspeople filled the Denbigh hall to the rafters for a presentation by Nextera Energy, the American-owned company that is making a bid to install 100 wind turbines near Vennachar in Addington Highlands.
Nextera is owned by Florida Power & Light, one of the largest U.S. electric utilities, with 4.7 million customer accounts in the United States. They operate wind, solar, oil, and nuclear energy generating sites across North America. Ben Faiella, a member of the development team at Nextera, made the initial presentation Thursday night, explaining how the bidding process would go for the Florida-based company. Nextera will submit their bid to Ontario Power Authority (OPA), as part of their Large Rate Procurement (LRP) plan, at the end of August of this year. The OPA have set a target to purchase 300MW's of wind power, and Nextera has proposed 100 wind turbines in Addington Highlands, as well as 50 turbines in North Frontenac, for a potential total generation of 300MW of electricity. There is an incentive, applied as a discount to their proposed price, for applicants to gain support from the local municipality and/or a local Aboriginal group.
Part of the incentive also includes seeking support from adjacent landowners. Nextera is offering Addington Highlands a annual payment of $350,000, which they call the “Community Vibrancy Fund”. Once installed, the land the turbines are on would also add approximately $450,000 to the Municipality's MPAC assessment annually.
It's a significant chunk of change for a small community, but when the question and answer period was opened up to the audience hands shot into the air. Nextera's employees were kept busy for the next two hours answering questions about environmental impact, land leases, timelines for the project, and above all exactly where the proposed locations of the turbines are.
Faiella explained that Nextera had been studying wind data for over 12 months to help guide that decision but wasn't able to say yet where individual towers would be located.
Local resident Terry Boucher, from Lake Weslemkoon, asked Reeve Henry Hogg whether the township has any plan to “engage any sort of consultant to talk about the technical or environmental issues that other [similar] projects within the province have experienced?”
“We haven't had much discussion on it yet” Reeve Hogg said but agreed that it would be wise to do so. He suggested that they wait for Nextera to provide them with more information before possibly looking for help from a consulting firm. He did point out that they had been seeking legal help with the process.
Diane Isaacs from Denbigh was seeking clarity on the municipality's role in the decision process. “If... the community doesn't want this done is there anything that council can say or do...and us as citizens in this community? Have we got anything we can say or do?”
Reeve Hogg explained that the Green Energy Act “supersedes most of the regulations that council has in place...they don't need our approval.”
Isaacs continued “this community is really at the whim of the province and there is nothing that council can say or do”.
Councillor Tony Fritsch stated that the biggest impact they could have would be to support or not support the application.
Pam Boucher, from Lake Weslemkoon, wondered what process is in place for decommissioning the towers once they reach the end of their life cycle, which is approximately 20-25 years. Ben Greenhouse, a developer with Nextera, explained that they were legally obligated to remove the towers, following the guidelines set out by the Environmental Protection Act.
Greenhouse explained that if Nextera went out of business there would still be great value in the windmills. He suggested that “80-90% of the cost [of the windmill] is paid at the beginning...in a bankruptcy this asset would be one of the more valuable assets.” He also said that the cost of bringing the towers down is “significantly less than the value of the materials”.
Denbigh resident, John Williams, asked the Nextera representatives whether they had “any experience with building projects in forested landscapes in Ontario?”
Greenhouse explained how they had no similar experience in Ontario but that they had done similar builds in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
John Keeble, from Lake Weslemkoon, inquired about setbacks and distances from residents, asking Nextera if they've looked into “keeping them away from where people can see them from their cottages?”
Greenhouse told Keeble that they “haven't, to date, taken it into consideration.. it's something we can work with the community to attempt to take into consideration...” but pointed out the difficulties in trying to juggle all the different limitations like setbacks from cottages, rivers, lakes and other features on the land.
Reeve Hogg explained that approximately 50% of the tax base in Addington Highlands are seasonal residents and cottagers. Nextera are planning to make another presentation later in the spring with the intent of reaching this demographic.
The distance setback from a turbine depends on the situation. For example, the minimum distance that a turbine can be placed to a non-participating neighbour's property line, that is, a property that hasn't signed a lease agreement with Nextera, is blade length, plus 10 metres, if the property has no dwelling on it. Greenhouse explained that they recently had been installing turbines with a 50 metre blade, so that would mean a 60m setback.
A recreational property owner in Addington Highlands spoke out about his concerns over the project and his worries about property values and quality of life.
“I don't come here and pay the high rate of taxes...to sit here and look at wind turbines...I come here for the serenity, the natural beauty, and that is why I will advocate for every cottage person in this area to stop this...it's about where I come to get my peace and quiet”.
The Denbigh hall exploded in applause.