Some opposition at Pincher Creek -- Municipality approves 200 MW

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Applications by four project developers to build a total of 200 MW of wind plant in the Canadian province of Alberta within the next two years have all been approved by the municipality of Pincher Creek. But a public hearing has revealed community concerns over the sudden proliferation of wind turbines.

"We had a lot of people in town and general ratepayers indicate they feel we don't have a good enough plan in place for the large number of turbines coming in," says Pincher Creek development officer Laurie Preszlak. She believes some residents may not realise that Pincher Creek, the country's first community to permit utility scale wind farms, has had specific regulations for wind turbine construction since 1989.

These currently deal with turbine colour, height, and setbacks from buildings and roadways. Public safety is also covered, particularly as it relates to easily climbed lattice towers. Councillors began wrestling with some of the issues of visual aesthetics in 1998, which resulted in the mandatory public hearing process for multi-turbine installations.

The four developers all held open houses in addition to attending the hearing, where they described proposed projects and answered questions. In keeping with the town's keen interest in wind -- 700 people filled the Pincher Creek community centre in 1997 during Canada's largest rally supporting the development of wind energy -- more than 100 area residents showed up for the hearing in late January. The majority demonstrated continuing support for wind resource development, but the forum brought forward concern over the rapid acceleration of proposed construction.

"How many turbines is too many?" asks Preszlak. "Some people think thousands are wonderful and others don't want any. Where to put them, that's the other thing. Some people don't want to see turbines west of town because that would obstruct our view of the mountains. But there are a lot of places there that are perfect for turbines."

all four appealed

Barrie Sylvester has already decided wind turbines don't improve the landscape surrounding his home near the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Following the municipal district's approval of the proposed wind projects in Pincher Creek, he appealed the construction of all four projects.

"There are lots of places they could put them where they could be more sensitive about it, and I think a bit more thought needs to go into it," says Sylvester. He is opposed to turbines on high land, where wind resources are optimal for power producers.

In addition to enjoying the rolling hills and open vistas of this windy western corner of Alberta, he says he watches "lots of romantic films," and believes the success of his appeal will be a "miracle." A hearing before a district appeal board is already scheduled, and a decision on Sylvester's intervention will likely be released already this month.

"In the meantime we've ordered $20 million worth of equipment, and already paid for $5 million worth of that," says wind power producer John Keating of Canadian Hydro Developers. His company plans to add 15, 1.3 MW Nordex turbines to an existing 21 MW wind plant on Cowley Ridge. Keating expects a swift resolution to the appeal of his permit. "Right now," he says, "This doesn't affect our timetable at all."

New siting rules

Aside from Sylvester's appeal, Preszlak says the district is already evaluating wind turbine noise, height and density, and that councillors are discussing changes to land-use bylaws and the municipal development plan. While Preszlak is not sure when new regulations might come into force, she says projects with approval now will not be affected.

"You want to know the rules before you spend time securing land and developing a proposal," says Keating. "Right now the rules are such that if you abide by the setbacks, have an agreement in place with a landowner, speak with surrounding land owners and hold an open house, it's just a matter of being reasonable. If you're unreasonable, I assure you the community will speak up."

Canadian Hydro and Vision Quest Windelectric are two power producers with plans to expand existing wind facilities in the area. Benign Energy Canada and Wind Power Incorporated also have permits to build wind facilities in Pincher Creek, but have yet to reveal critical details of their plans.

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