By Scott Nixon, Times-Advocate Staff
HURON — Two large-scale industrial wind turbine projects for the area are becoming closer to reality as the project’s owners, NextEra Energy, are planning more public meetings for May and June.
As previously reported, NextEra is overseeing the Bluewater and Goshen projects, both of which are expected to be in operation within the next two years.
The Goshen Wind Energy Centre will be a 102-megawatt project with 63 1.6-megawatt turbines generating enough electricity to power about 25,500 homes. The project runs 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 Blackbush Line in the west.
The smaller, 60-megawatt Bluewater Wind Energy Centre will include 37 1.6-megawatt turbines and will generate power for about 15,000 homes, according to NextEra. That project generally runs between Blackbush/Bronson Line in the west, Mill Road in the north, Conc. 5 Road to the east and Danceland/Staffa Road in the south.
Project director Nicole Geneau told the Times-Advocate recently the Bluewater project is a few months ahead of the Goshen project in terms of permits and the renewable energy approval process, which includes guidelines from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and from NextEra in its aim to consult with the public.
NextEra is in the final stages of public consultations with the Bluewater project and has the design layouts and infrastructure requirements prepared. Once public consultation closes, NextEra will submit an application to the MOE, which will determine if everything is complete. If the MOE decides it is complete, the application is posted to an environmental registry and the public will again have another chance to comment on the project directly to the MOE.
In terms of the Goshen project, Geneau said NextEra is still working on incorporating feedback into the project from the public and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“We’ve been meeting with community groups for several months,” she said. “It’s a slightly larger project, and there are a few more things to consider.”
Geneau said construction for the Bluewater project is expected to start in the summer of 2013 and continue for about four months, while construction for the Goshen project should start late in 2013 and take six to seven months.
NextEra has been involved with the projects since 2006. A company called Canadian Green Power initiated the work in 2004-05 and remains involved, but NextEra is the lead company.
In terms of challenges, Geneau said each wind turbine project has its own differences.
“I think that Ontario has become a much more sophisticated place to design a wind project,” she said, adding it’s been interesting working through the province’s guidelines “from scratch.”
One of the unique aspects of this region is the migratory pattern of tundra swans, which NextEra had to take into account when designing its projects.
“It’s another source of data that we need to consider and ensure that we’re minimizing impact,” Geneau said.
She explained that NextEra has had independent third-party biologists in the field looking at migratory paths and potential turbine locations for the past three years.
She said such data has been used when deciding how to design the projects.
She said one of the company’s decisions to lessen the impact on migratory birds was to ensure all turbines are erected east of Highway 21.
Asked about local anti-wind turbine groups that have formed and have planned protests against such projects, Geneau said, “There are always going to be people in a community that resist change and aren’t open to a new project. What we’ve found is that the vast majority are in favour and often they’re the silent majority, who don’t come out to council meetings and don’t organize their own protests because they’re not protesting against something, they’re actually in favour of something.”
Geneau said NextEra has met with all the local anti-turbine groups they are aware of in the area and said things have been “very civil.”
Regarding concerns about the impact turbines could have on things such as health and real estate values, Geneau said NextEra responds from a scientific perspective and the company’s experience managing nearly 9,000 wind turbines.
She said studies show there has been no evidence of an impact on property values or a direct link between wind turbines and health.
“We can only respond based on what we know, which is we’re not seeing any evidence of the anecdotal stories that we’re hearing on the Internet and the blogs.”
NextEra senior media relations specialist Josie Hernandez said she recently visited a wind farm the company operates in Alberta and met with the local Chamber of Commerce.
She said it’s been an interesting process for the company speaking with people who expressed fears about the project in its beginning stages who now say it’s been a great addition to the community.
Hernandez said there have been no issues with health of either the people who live there or of livestock since the project has been in operation.
Geneau added NextEra has been trying to get more involved in local events and fairs , which provides another way for the company to meet and speak with local residents.
A change was made to the Goshen project a couple of months ago, which will see NextEra building a transmission line to interconnect the project to the existing Hydro One service. As such, public information meetings will be held May 29 from 4-7 at South Huron Rec Centre in Exeter and May 30 from 4-7 p.m. at the Stanley Complex west of Varna.
Final open house meetings for the Bluewater project will be held June 13 from 4-7 p.m. at the Seaforth Community Centre and June 14 from 4-7 p.m. at the Stanley Complex. Those meetings are the final open house meetings for the Bluewater project, Geneau said, adding the company’s final proposed designs and supporting documents such as design and operation, construction and decommissioning plans will be at the meeting. Experts will also be on hand to answer questions from the public.
Documents can also be viewed at the company’s website, www.NextEraEnergyCanada.com.
Hernandez encourages members of the public to contact the company with any questions they have and to attend the open houses.