By Don Crosby
For the Confederate
The final public consultation meeting put on by NextEra Energy in Durham was also another chance for opponents to vigorously protest the project one more time
The first 90 minutes took the form of one-on-one exchange company consultants outlining the scope of the project while outside opponents held their own information session with chants, posters and calls for NextEra to go home.
Protesters focused their anger on the company’s removal of an eagle’s next from a project in Haldimand County earlier this year.
During the last half of the meeting critics of the proposed 14 wind turbine project planned for west of Priceville came inside for the question and answer period conducted under the watchful eye of several security guards and moderator Sheila Willis- a former assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of the Environment- who ably matched wits with the protesters as they tried to disrupt the meeting with their scoffing and guffawing.
Ms. Willis, who has moderated about 18 such question and answer sessions for wind developers, thanked the 230 or so people who turned out to Tuesday’s meeting for their cooperation. She said the line of questioning was similar to many others she’s moderated with concerns about wind turbines and their effect on health, life style and property values and she understands the position of both sides.
“For the most part people are concerned about how the turbines might disrupt their community and I think in each instance the company’s are doing their best to address those concerns but the passions do run very high,” said Ms. Willis who was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the meeting ran. “With all of the signs in the room and everything I thought that it might be a little less orderly but the people were wonderful.”
Questions ran the gamut from health concerns, lifespan of the project and who would pay for decommissioning the turbines at the end of their life to why NextEra remove an eagle’s nest at a Haldimand county project rather than relocate one of the turbines. They also wanted raised concerns about the effect of turbines on migratory birds and questioned why NextEra’s parent company- Florida Power and Light- doesn’t have any wind energy projects in its home state of Florida.
Annan resident Bonnie Reid, an opponent of wind turbines in rural residential areas, praised Ms. Willis for managing to get more than 100 questions read and answered by a panel of experts provided by NextEra while containing a volatile situation.
“There was a lot of negativity, but she kept everybody in their place. I’m against wind turbines but there is a way of presenting (opposition views) and I commend her for what she did. It’s a very difficult situation,” said Ms. Reid who didn’t get her question read before the 8 p.m. deadline.
Company spokesperson Nicole Geneau promised that all of the questions left over would be answered and included in the company’s information package, which accompanies the Renewal Energy Application (REA) to the Ministry of the Environment in a few days.
She also promised that questions submitted to the company by Jan. 21 would also be addressed and included in the REA application.
Once the MOE deems the application complete it will post the proposal on the Environmental Bill Rights (EBR) website for further public comment for another two months before making a decision on application.
“It’s absolutely not a consultation. It’s them adhering to the requirements for a meeting but if it was truly any sort of a consultation they would have left in 2009 after the first meeting when the community told them then to leave,” said Priceville resident Joan Rawski who vowed to continue the opposition along with others who have vigorously fought this proposal since it was announced more than six years ago. “We are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop this company from erecting wind turbines in West Grey. I can tell you that several senior citizens have told me they are prepared to lie down in front of trucks, for example. We are under siege by a foreign company with the assistance of our own government. They are leaving us with few options.”
West Grey Councillor Bev Cutting criticized NextEra for providing boilerplate responses to some tough questions by angry residents.
“When people ask the heartfelt question, why are you here and (say) we don’t want you so go somewhere else, the answer is always, ‘well we love green energy and that’s why we do this,” Councillor Cutting said. “I’ve never talked to any resident that isn’t for green energy. What we’re against is putting wind turbines in a rural residential setting, when there is so much land that could be used that would not impact people through loss of property value, enjoyment of their life or for health issues. It’s beyond me how the provincial government is splitting rural Ontario pitting neighbour against neighbour, community against community. It’s mind boggling.”
Ms. Geneau said the issues remain the same, as they were when she attended the first public consultation meeting in 2009 and is confident the company is working hard to address those concerns.
“We knew coming into the meeting this evening the community was concerned so we made an extra effort to meet the request of local government to accommodate an open question and answer which we did. I think there weren’t any surprises. For the most part the questions got through and the answers were the best available information we have right now and our best effort at honesty, transparency and providing responses,” she said.