By Scott Nixon, Times-Advocate Staff
EXETER — NextEra Energy says the huge new fees the Municipality of Bluewater wants to impose on industrial wind turbines are not enforceable.
In a conversation with the Times-Advocate last week, project director Nicole Geneau was asked how the company feels about how some municipalities — such as South Huron and Bluewater — are passing motions calling for moratoriums on wind projects and asking for large development fees. In Bluewater, the council recently agreed to charge industrial wind companies close to $1 million per turbine.
NextEra has 52 turbines planned for the Municipality of Bluewater.
“We remain disappointed that municipal leaders feel the need to make such a statement,” Geneau said. “We continue to make every effort to work with them, both the elected officials and staff.”
Asked about NextEra's reaction to the Bluewater fees, Geneau said, “We continue to point out to them that they can't enforce those motions because . . . it's not within their rights under the Green Energy Act. Even if the Green Energy Act didn't exist they wouldn't be able to enforce those motions, so we continue to try to point out to them that we want to work with them.”
When asked if NextEra has seen turbines fees as large as those Bluewater wants to charge, Geneau said, “We've never paid that much in any other community. We've heard other elected councils talk about similar figures, but no municipality in the province has ever been able to enforce that kind of a charge and we don't anticipate that they will moving forward, either.”
Geneau said NextEra has offered to set up a Community Vibrancy Fund, something the company has done for other communities in which it is involved. In Ontario, the fund sees NextEra contribute $3,500 per megawatt that could go towards projects like environmental stewardship, community investment and sustainability.
As previously reported, NextEra has three large projects planned for the region.
The Goshen Wind Energy Centre is a 102-megawatt project with 63 1.6-megawatt turbines situated between Zurich-Hensall Road in the north, down to Mount Carmel Drive in the south, Parr Line to the east and the South Huron/Lambton Shores municipal boundary and Black Bush Line in the west.
The smaller, 60-megawatt Bluewater Wind Energy Centre will include 37 1.6-megawatt turbines and generally runs between Black Bush/Bronson Line in the west, Mill Road in the north, Conc. 5 Road to the east and Danceland/Staffa Road in the south.
The larger 150-megawatt Jericho Wind Energy Centre will see a total of 92 turbines constructed in Lambton Shores, North Middlesex and the Township of Warwick.
For the Goshen project, Geneau said NextEra has released to the public all of the draft reports involved with the Renewable Energy Approval application, which includes the project description, site plans, construction, design and operations and decommissioning. Those reports are available on the NextEra website and municipal offices. The natural heritage assessment is also included in those reports, Geneau said, which includes things such as streams, water bodies, forests, wetlands and woodlands.
“You name it, we've looked at it,” Geneau said.
The assessment is with the Ministry of Natural Resources for approval, and NextEra expects approval within the next few weeks.
The company's archeological assessment is also with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for approval.
The final required public meetings for the Goshen project are scheduled for Jan. 9 from 5-8 p.m. at the South Huron Rec Centre in Exeter and for Jan. 10 from 5-8 p.m. at the Zurich Arena.
Both meetings will be similar to NextEra meetings in the past in that they will be carried out in an open house format with experts on hand to answer questions from the public. Also, NextEra's fieldwork is done, so information from the project's sound study will be available, so residents will be able to see on maps where the closest turbines are in relation to their homes.
“We'll have all of the final reports available,” Geneau said.
After the meetings, NextEra submits its final reports — including public comments and how they've been addressed — to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE). The MOE takes about eight weeks to determine if the application is complete.
Once the application is complete, all the documents associated with the project are posted on the Environmental Registry for public comment, followed by a technical review that could take up to six months.
NextEra expects construction for the Goshen project to take place in the fall of 2013, with completion in the second quarter of 2014.
In terms of timeline, the Bluewater project is ahead of Goshen and the MOE is working on the six-month technical review. NextEra expects approval in February or March 2013 with construction starting in May 2013 and operation by the end of 2013.
Regarding the Jericho project, NextEra senior media relations specialist Josie Hernandez said the company has just released the locations of the towers and public consultation will start within the next several weeks, with an open house sometime in February.
Construction for the Jericho project should start in 2014.
One of the things NextEra is co-ordinating is the delivery of the equipment like the turbines. Geneau said things such as police escorts have to be organized for over-sized loads.
She wants the public to know that even after a project goes into the approval stage with the MOE, NextEra still takes comments and questions from the public.
“We're not going away from the perspective of being a resource people can use if they have questions.”
She said the concerns NextEra is hearing from the public about projects in the area are typical of concerns they would hear in any location.
Geneau said NextEra has a project in construction near Arthur, Ont., and she encourages members of the public to take a look at it so they'll get a sense of what a wind turbine project looks like.
Documents concerning NextEra projects can be found at www.nexteraenergycanada.com