Source: Ventus Draft ESR, Figure 7.3, page 53
Over two years ago Ventus Energy Inc. proposed six 400-foot high wind turbines centred on the open fields of the Robitaille Farm site in the 19th Concession. They set up wind measuring equipment on the field, conducted studies of their potential environmental impacts, held public open houses to explain the proposal, and filed a draft Environmental Screening Report (ESR) with the Township last December.
Since then, letters and questions to Ventus have gone unanswered. Their writers wondered why. Some opponents quietly hoped that Ventus might be running short of cash, or that their financial projections were too pessimistic to suit their backers.
Council’s Early Concerns
Tiny’s newly-elected Council became aware of the ESR in March. On March 12, concerned with the potential for conflict with our Official Plan, Council passed a resolution stating that it does not support industrial wind turbine facilities anywhere within the municipality as these types of projects do not comply with the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan.
They also noted that the existing zoning by-law in Tiny Township permits only small wind turbines to a maximum of 38 m. in height, which eliminates industrial turbines.
More recently, information from the ESR has come under public scrutiny. It turns out that Ventus has altered its original proposal. The six turbines are now to be sited in a sensitive wooded area in the 20th Concession, immediately adjacent to an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (the Thunder Beach ANSI), and are 60 feet higher than in the original proposal.
The proposed site is now as shown in the plan above. Note that the orange area on the east side of the site is clearly identified as a portion of that ANSI. Three of the turbines are sited immediately adjacent to the ANSI.
Why would Ventus make such a move? Such major changes can only result from a lack of sufficient wind at their first chosen site.
The Ontario Wind Atlas shows that even in the relatively windy northwest corner of Tiny Township the available wind is much less than in areas where industrial wind turbines already operate in Ontario.
The Ventus Draft ESR now says their original site in Lot 21 of Con. 18 and 19 is “infeasible”.
However, in moving all their towers from the open fields to a forested area, Ventus has had to increase the tower hub height from 80 to 100 metres, and also choose a type of turbine with a larger rotor diameter of 82.5 metres, specially designed for low wind conditions.
This brings the total turbine height to 141.25 metres or 460 feet, about the height of a 46-storey building, as opposed to the 40-storey height originally proposed.
Concerns With the New Proposal
Locating six huge turbines in a forested area rather than on open fields will remove a large area of trees that now absorb a significant amount of greenhouse gases, as well as affect a larger area of bird and animal habitat.
Up to two acres of trees must be removed for each turbine. The network of access roads must be up to 45 feet wide, and together with the necessary sub-station, some 22-24 acres of forest must be removed.
The typical site of an industrial wind turbine in a forested area looks like this:
Would the removal of so much forested land for the relatively small amount of intermittent power this project could generate really result in a net saving of greenhouse gas emissions?
Corporate Takeover of Ventus
Ventus President, John Douglas, has been quoted as saying that raising initial funding felt like “crawling up Bay Street on my belly”. Ventus Inc. eventually was backed by three venture capital funds. Its Board of Directors includes just five persons, one of whom is David Peterson, former Ontario Premier.
It now currently operates 29 Megawatts (MW) of wind power on Prince Edward Island. Another 80 MW of wind projects are under construction. Their proposal for Tiny would add nine MW to that total. (Due to the intermittent nature of wind, such projects never actually generate their nameplate capacity.) Such projects receive large subsidies and tax breaks, which makes them quite attractive to risk-taking investors.
Any faint hopes that Ventus might withdraw its project in Tiny due to financial concerns evaporated in late July, when Ventus was bought out for a reported $124 million by the huge trans-national corporation, SUEZ S.A.
SUEZ is a Paris based conglomerate that owns energy, gas, water and waste management utilities in many countries. They are one of the oldest continuously existing multinational corporations in the world, and formerly owned the Suez Canal.
SUEZ stated they acquired Ventus to be their entry point for wind power in North America. It will complement their existing Suez Energy North America Inc., a profitable Houston based utility.
In late August, another major corporate merger occurred. SUEZ itself was taken over (or merged with, depending on who is telling the tale) by Gaz de France, an even larger – and largely state-owned – corporation. The new entity will be known as GDF-Suez.
The financial press noted a Canadian connection to these gigantic deals: members of the multi-billionaire Desmarais family sit on the boards of SUEZ and various European holding companies involved in the transactions.
There can now be no expectation that the Ventus project in Tiny might be shelved by a lack of financing! This lends urgency for Tiny to do something soon.
Tiny Township Authorizes Impact Study
Council realized that Tiny’s existing by-law covering small wind turbines could be challenged by industrial turbine developers. Also, the March 12th resolution they passed carries no legal force.
Most municipalities that have received wind farm proposals or where such developments are completed have implemented Official Plan policies and Zoning By-law requirements to address their effects and ensure that they go only on sites that are appropriate for them.
On August 13, Tiny Council discussed a letter from CORT asking them to follow the lead of these other municipalities and conduct studies that would set out criteria for such factors as noise, setbacks, and so forth, but especially visual impact. These criteria should be clear and defensible, and suitable to incorporate in the Official Plan.
Council agreed that Tiny needs a proper basis to prevent proposed energy developments from harming the Township’s environment or its residents’ peaceful enjoyment of their properties. They directed staff to consult as soon as possible and advise them what type of studies would be needed and how they could be implemented.
On September 10th, they authorized staff to hire consultants to prepare a preliminary report that would outline the scope, costs, and process for a major study of the visual impacts of industrial wind turbines throughout Tiny. Chalk up one for Tiny.
It turns out that, as was the case with water levels in Georgian Bay, the Georgian Bay Association had already studied the problem of wind farm impacts and come up with a thought-provoking study.
They struck a committee to examine all aspects of wind farms and how their impacts are being evaluated in Ontario, and produced a 90-page report in February, 2007, that identified three major omissions in the current Environmental Assessment Process:
• There is presently no requirement to assess the cumulative impact of more than one wind farm in an area, nor of the additional facilities required to support them,
• There is no requirement to assess the impacts of the necessary power grid extensions and any other infrastructure projects in their area,
• There are no standard provincial criteria for assessing the visual impacts of industrial wind turbines; every municipality that has so far studied this impact has used its own methodology.
Tiny Township could take the lead by conducting its definitive study of visual impacts. Such a study would yield fair and defensible guidelines for turbines in our Official Plan, and could provide results that are usable province-wide.
The Tiny Cottager will keep you abreast of this study on our website and in our next issue.
If you wish to share your opinion on this kind of development in Tiny with Council members, then you should definitely let them know your opinion in the near future.
Some web resources:
A 1-page synopsis of the Georgian Bay Association’s excellent report on the pros and cons of wind turbines in areas of natural beauty and environmental value with a link to the full report is available at www.georgianbay.ca/renenergy.html.
Reports by Ontario Power Generation on future plans for all types of power in Ontario are available through links on their website, www.powerauthority.on.ca.
The local organization concerned with turbine impacts on Tiny is the Coalition Of Residents-Tiny, whose web site is www.cort.ca.