Energy Minister officially opens Enbridge wind generation project

Protesters left out in the rain
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With the push of a button, Ontario’s Deputy Premier officially ended three years of controversy as the 115-turbine Enbridge Wind Power project officially came to life.

Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell and officials from Enbridge and the Municipality of Kincardine celebrated the opening of the project in the pouring rain just outside of Underwood Friday afternoon.

“Today is a milestone for the people of Ontario,” said Enbridge’s Janet Holder. “We’re proud we’ve made progress towards sustainable energy. Kincardine has re-affirmed its reputation as the sustainable powerhouse of Ontario.”

The turbine project, which is located on 20,000 hectares in the northern part of the municipality, will provide 190 megawatts of energy to the province’s power grid. At peak capacity, the project will provide enough energy to power between 50,000 and 60,000 homes.

‘This is an important day as it helps us eliminate (the province’s) reliance on coal,” Smitherman said. “I’m an asthmatic and that’s important to me.”

Smitherman was appropriately dressed in a green tie for the occasion, and that colour provided the day’s central theme. The minister recently introduced Ontario’s controversial Green Energy Act and the Enbridge launch fit nicely with the act’s central focus.

Enbridge wind project general manager Bob Simpson, left, watches as Ontario's Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman and Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell press the button to officially turn on the 115 turbine wind farm Friday afternoon. (Kiel Edge photo)

Although wind energy has been derided as inefficient and not cost-effective, Smitherman said the last three months have shown more power generated through wind than the same period a year ago. He also said wind is just part of the renewable energy solution that Ontario is pushing. On days when wind power is not effective, he explained, it will likely be sunny, so solar power can fill in the additional energy needed.

“This project gives us another opportunity to harness more of what Mother Nature has to offer us,” Smitherman said.

Invited guests sat in a tent out of the rain during the ceremony before heading outside to watch Smitherman, Mitchell and Enbridge project manager Bob Simpson turn on the turbine. The concession road which led to the turbine was lined with a large group of protesters carrying signs and shouting as the guests arrived.

South Bruce OPP officers were on hand to control the protesters and monitor access to the ceremony site. The protestors travelled to the area from across the province, but their demonstration was civil and did not get out of hand.

“I think anywhere there is a new electrical (project), there will be people who oppose it,” Smitherman said. “We listen carefully to people and take heed of their (health and safety concerns). People see things in different ways.”

The Enbridge project brought millions of dollars to the municipality through building permit fees during its construction. Local landowners also earn income by renting a portion of their land to the company for the 80-metre Vestas turbines. Smitherman estimated that close to 300 jobs were created during the construction period and many full-time positions will be available in maintaining and repairing the turbines.

The Enbridge project took almost three years to complete, with construction beginning in July, 2007. Planning for the wind power development has gone through two councils and mayor Larry Kraemer said it’s a relief to finally have everything completed.

“It fits in well with Kincardine’s motto,” Kraemer said. “It’s not without (opposition) but no energy project is.”

A group of local residents, calling themselves the Wind Action Group (WAG) fought against the project in a lengthy Ontario Municipal Board hearing. The group was concerned about the health and safety impacts of the project and each turbine’s proximity to residential homes.

Recently, the Suncor development in Ripley has come under fire from residents complaining of headaches, vision problems and other health concerns they believe stem from living close to operating turbines.

Smitherman said the ministry of energy and infrastructure is working with the ministry of the environment to look into the complaints from residents. He said Mitchell has been excellent in reporting her constituents complaints to the ministry and both groups are working to find the best solution to the problems.

The Green Energy Act, Smitherman said, is also designed to set provincial standards for safe planning of wind turbines, taking the control for regulating setback distances away from individual municipalities.

“We have a responsibility to listen closely to (concerns of residents),” Smitherman said.

Although the event was held on a wet, foggy day, the turbines were visibly spinning before Smitherman left, giving the grey afternoon a greenish hue.