Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Residents decry lack of wind turbine notification

Article From Niagara This Week

Residents decry lack of wind turbine notification (Also, decommisoining fees too low)

Amanda Street/Staff October 25, 2011
When Ken Martin wanted to build a shed, he had to go through the planning process. His neighbours were notified of his intentions, and once it was over, he could erect the simple building.

His neighbours, who have optioned their land to Niagara Region Wind Corporation for its 230 megaWatt wind turbine project, were not required to share that information, nor was NRWC required to go through regular planning channels. That’s because the provincial government’s Green Energy Act took decision making away from local municipalities, which is a “grave” concern for Martin and others who shared their thoughts with council Monday night.

“I had to get a building permit to build my shed. I had to come down to town hall, apply for it, and see if any of my neighbours objected,” said Martin, during an open comment session prior to the start of the regular meeting. “When my neighbour wanted to build an out building he had to do the same thing. Never have I been notified that there will be wind turbines around my house.”

Martin, a realtor, also questioned past comments that turbines will not impact property values, a concern raised by the handful of other residents who came to the podium.

“That is absolutely crazy,” he said, noting he has seen people refuse to look at houses because they are near hydro towers.

NRWC, when asked by Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt what they would do to make up for lost value, had no answer for members of council or the public other than to repeat that it had retained a real estate consultant to prepare a report.

“So my neighbour who has an industrial wind turbine on his agricultural farm land becomes a millionaire, and my property devalues,” said Catherine Mitchell, an Elcho Road resident who describes her property as being a “ground zero” of the project.

NRWC is reportedly paying leases of up to $50,000 per year to land owners who have optioned to have a turbine erected on their property. They made no objection to the reported amount when it was brought up at council Monday. Also in the contracts, which are not confidential said spokesperson Randi Rahamim, is a letter of credit for up to $100,000 for the decommissioning of the giant towers — 124 metres high to the hub with 55 meter blades — a number members of council argued was too low.

“My gut feeling is, I don’t think that’s enough,” said Ald. John Glazier, who suggested the corporation work with the township on decommissioning as they will be the ones on the hook in 20 years down the road when the project contract runs out. “It’s not nearly enough to decommission.”
Adam O’Mara, a consultant on the project team, said there is considerable salvage value in the turbines, but later noted that in 20 years time the $100,000 fee is not likely going to cover the decommissioning cost.

“Turbines are relatively new to Ontario .... but we have no specific numbers at this time,” he said.
Ald. Lou DiLeonardo said he felt “insulted” by the decommissioning plan noting $100,000 “is not a lot of money in 20 years.”

“I don’t see it as a safeguard for the municipality,” he said. “I have a really bad feeling about it.”
Rahamim said NRWC is going above and beyond the requirements of the renewable energy approvals process, a provincially governed process that all green energy projects approved under its Feed-in-Tariff program must meet. The province only requires a decommissioning plan, she said, the letters of credit are not a requirement but a commitment NRWC has made to optioned land owners.
“We have heard you, we are committed, and will get back to you,” Rahamin said in response to DiLeonardo’s concerns.

Commitment was a recurring theme in responses from the proponents — a partnership of Daniels Power Corporation and Renewable Energy Business Ltd.

“You have our commitment that we will go above and beyond ... we are here to talk to people,” Rahamim said, noting NRWC held public meetings in the summer that were not required through the approvals process nor was their appearance at council Monday night to provide members of council with an update. “We understand it is an emotional issue. But you have our commitment to that.”
Since last appearing before council, NRWC has selected a manufacturer for the turbine project — German-based ENERCON which, as a result of this 77-turbine project, will open two plants in the Niagara region — commenced its REA process, installed a meteorological tower to measure wind velocity and embarked on a number of studies required through the approval process. Rahamim said exact locations of the turbines are not yet known but a draft turbine layout was in the works.

“Once that is established we will make that available for review,” she said. “You have our commitment on that.”