Councils Job No Breeze: Questions for NextEra

Written by  Jonas Bonetta Wednesday, 10 June 2015 23:45
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NextEra Energy, a subsidiary of American-owned Florida Power and Light, is proposing to install over 100 industrial wind turbines across the rolling hills of Addington Highlands and North Frontenac municipalities if their bid is successful with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) this fall. NextEra hosted two mandatory, well-attended, open houses over the weekend to inform residents of their plans, including potential sitings of wind turbines, and to answer questions the public had about their company and their proposal.

The current NextEra proposal consists of two projects, Northpoint I and Northpoint II. Northpoint I includes 50 turbines in North Frontenac generating approximately 100MW and Northpoint II is for 57 turbines in total, 50 in Addington, and an additional 7 in North Frontenac, generating approximately 114MW, if they use the suggested 2MW turbines.

NextEra is offering both municipalities a “community vibrancy fund”, if the townships provide them with a signed letter of support that they can submit with their proposal to the IESO. This letter gains them points during the application process which discounts their final proposal price and makes their bid more competitive. Points are also awarded for getting a letter of support from a local Aboriginal group. The community vibrancy fund they are offering is $1750 per MW which would equal approximately $175,000 a year for Addington Highlands and just under $200,000 a year for North Frontenac. On top of this, the townships would also receive $1750 per kilometre of transmission line per year in their respective territories.

Because the Northpoint II project exists in both municipalities, NextEra needs to receive support resolutions from both North Frontenac and Addington Highlands on that specific project in order to achieve the discount on their proposal price.

“It's all or nothing,” Ben Greenhouse, a director for NextEra, explained. A 'yes' vote by Addington would be negated by North Frontenac voting 'no' to the 7 proposed turbines in their area for Northpoint II.

“It's not really practical, but it's a possibility,” Greenhouse responded when asked whether they'd alter their Northpoint II proposal and remove the 7 North Frontenac turbines in order to achieve a support resolution from Addington Highlands Council. This would also mean routing their transmission lines through a longer, less desirable route if they have to avoid the, ideal, corridor through North Frontenac.

Dan Carruthers, a cottage-owner on Ashby Lake, asked NextEra if the vibrancy fund is “contingent on Council saying yes, or will the community get the vibrancy fund regardless of the council vote?”

“...it is contingent and the reason is...because it allows us to bid a higher price...if we don't get the support resolution we have to go with a lower price, which means that we have less room in the process...” Greenhouse explained.

The hall echoed with folks yelling 'bribe' after Greenhouse told them this.

Chris Winney, a local real estate agent, asked on behalf of people who have already signed leaseholder agreements with NextEra, that, if the community decides that they don't want the project, will NextEra “remove the encumbrances that are on title on their properties and allow them to go forward and own their land as everybody else does?”

Greenhouse responded saying that “it's an individual question on an individual basis...we're here for 20-30-40 years. We don't want to be working with people who don't want us on their land. That's a difficult relationship...we'd sit down with them and try and understand their concerns...” but he also warned that “as the process goes further and further, and more and more money and time is invested it gets more and more difficult to change.”

Alice Madigan, a concerned resident who, on Saturday, presented Council with a petition against the turbines, made a complaint to NextEra's representatives that a friend of hers had been harassed numerous times by a salesperson from the company.

“She has a sign on her property that says 'unwilling host' yet you keep harassing her to sign up. Why?” Madigan said. “She's a recent widow...this poor lady is fragile...you're trying to wear them down.”

“If we are doing that, which I haven't heard, then we need to stop that and we will,” Greenhouse told Madigan.

When NextEra first presented their proposal to Addington Highlands Council it consisted of 100 turbines. They've since reduced that down to 50 turbines in order to “focus their resources” although between now and the proposal deadline they explained that they could be adding more turbines to the proposal.

Greenhouse suggested that they would most likely add a few more to make up for turbines that get cut out during the permitting process. During that stage of the development they may be forced to remove turbines from their plan based on their proximity to a sensitive ecological area, a house, or it being too challenging to build based on the topography.

Friday and Saturday's meetings were highly anticipated by local residents as NextEra presented preliminary maps showing possible locations of turbines as well as some photo mockups of what the landscape might look like with the turbines in place.

These photos were taken from different vantage points around the two municipalities and showed turbines in the distance, some more obvious and looming than others and some hardly visible on the horizon.

Some residents complained that the photos had been taken from very advantageous angles to show little impact and that they weren't showing a realistic representation of how things might look in the future.

“The locations I don't really see changing,” Ben Faiella, a project manager for NextEra, stressed on Saturday.

Jason Gibson, a land specialist from Canacre, the company in charge of acquiring land for NextEra, suggested it would be difficult to introduce more turbines to the current proposal.

“Between where the good wind is and the properties that we have available...with the setbacks on crazy amounts of stuff...even if we have a 200-acre lot...we end up with 5-acres,” Gibson said.

The Ministry of Environment (MOE) regulates a minimum setback from a turbine at 550 metres and this number rises with an increase in turbines and the sound level rating of the turbines chosen for the project. These setbacks are intended to limit sound at the nearest residence to 40dB. This 40dB level is what the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe recommends for the “protection of public health from community noise”. According to the WHO, this is “below the level at which effects on sleep and health occur...however, it is above the level at which complaints may occur.” 40dB is the equivalent to a freezer or refrigerator running measured from about 3 feet away. Theoretically, the sound would increase as you get closer to the turbine. On NextEra's 'Jericho' project, which they built in southwestern Ontario last year, the maximum sound power level from their installed 1.6MW turbines was 103dB and the MOE setbacks are such that by the time that sound travels the distance to a residence it's no louder than 40dB.

A resident at the Denbigh meeting asked NextEra “would you be looking at making another submission to expand the number of turbines in the area?”

“This is our business...to build wind farms,” Greenhouse responded. “If the government puts another call out and we have a solid base here, it would make a lot of sense potentially to expand, so certainly we would look at it.”

A couple from Vennachar who have signed up their land but aren't yet on the map for a future turbine expressed excitement for the changes that could come from NextEra building in the community and hoped that their land would be chosen as a possible location for one of NextEra's turbines.

“It should be good for the area ... I'm not sure it's gonna change anything a lot but it may change something ... so I say go ahead,” the man from Vennachar said.

When asked if they were worried that turbines may decrease property values in the area the woman said, “it couldn't get any lower than it is now.”

They have hopes that a wind farm in the area would bring local jobs and new residents and stimulate the local economy.

“I don't want just maintenance jobs...I think we can get the skilled jobs ... they could be local kids,” the lady from Vennachar said.

An organization called Bon Echo Area Residents Against Turbines (BEARAT) was recently formed to create an online voice for the residents who are against the wind project. They have a website: www.bearat.org. There is a petition up on their site as well for people to sign in support of declaring the area “not a willing host” to wind farms.

As well, you can link to the preliminary maps that NextEra has provided of the proposed wind turbine sites on our website at www.frontenacnews.ca.

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