By Mac Christie, Times-Advocate Staff
ZURICH – Northland Power, the developer of the proposed 46-turbine Grand Bend Wind Farm, held its second public open house Nov. 29 in Zurich.
Gordon Potts, the project manger for the wind farm, said the meeting is a chance for interested parties to air their concerns, as well as see Northland's responses to previously raised issues.
"I'm hoping to demonstrate we are listening and that were are trying to make changes where we can meet concerns," Potts said of the meeting. "We heard in some earlier meetings a concern about the flashing lights on the top of the tower. We've found some technology that will allow us to keep the lights off, except for the condition where a plane is flying overhead."
While he noted the device isn't cheap, it should reduce the on-time for the lights from 100 per cent to 10 per cent.
"That's a positive change in our mind," Potts noted.
Another issue which has arisen is the possible disruption of the Exeter weather station due to wind turbines, which could prevent accurate storm prediction.
Potts said the company is working with Environment Canada on the issue and will have a solution in place.
"There's more work to study the problem and we will work with our competitors NextEra (Energy) to come up with a solution," he said. "All the projects proposed for the shoreline of Lake Huron will have an effect on that radar station.
"It's a legitimate issue and we'll solve it, we just don't know what the solution is yet."
He added the company has also moved a turbine because of a communications issue, as well as an access road due to environmental issues. Northland is also considering underground transmission lines.
As for concerns, Potts said what he's heard have been pretty standard for most wind turbine projects.
"People are concerned about property values, the noise, and I think they're concerned about how the visual landscape will change as a result of these machines," Potts said of the main concerns he's heard. "I would say those are the three primary concerns."
The Grand Bend Wind Farm is a 100-megawatt project, which will stretch from the Grand Bend area to just north of St. Joseph. The project plans to permit 48 sites for turbines, but to ultimately erect 46, 2.3-megawatt Siemens turbines.
"There are 48 locations we're permitting, but we only need 46 of them for the farm," Potts explained. "So just in case we discover one or two can't be built, we've got a couple spares."
According to a map provided by Northland, all but eight of the permitted sites fall within the Municipality of Bluewater, where the turbines would be subject to the municipality’s new building fees of close to $1 million per turbine.
While Potts noted he hasn't had a chance to speak with council or Bluewater chief administrative officer Steve McAuley about the fees, he noted Northland will be in discussions with Bluewater about using municipal right-of-ways for transmission lines.
"I think that's the place to have this conversation," he said. "I don't really have anything to say at this point."
As previously reported by the Times-Advocate, NextEra Energy, which is constructing the Goshen and Bluewater Wind Energy Centres, said they don't feel the fees are enforceable.
"I wouldn't think that they are either," Potts said when pressed. "I don't think the building permit department can charge more than it costs them to implement their programs."
He wouldn't speculate on whether the fees will jeopardize the project.
The event was held as part of four meetings throughout the area, which included meetings in South Huron and Seaforth.
The second public meeting puts Northland on track to finalize its reports and make its submission to the Ministry of the Environment in January. Potts noted a decision is typically made in six months.
"We would expect to get a decision in July," he explained. "Then if the decision is a go, hopefully by the end of the year we would begin construction activities, mostly preparing for the next season.
"We would install in 2014."
For more information about the project visit http://grandbend.northlandpower.ca