Successful end to a long wait -- Nearly 285 MW cleared for go

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Two large Ontario wind projects that emerged as winners from a government request for propoals two years ago are at last moving forward after battling permitting problems that have delayed their construction for more than a year. Calgary's Enbridge Inc has begun road work at the site of its 181.5 MW Ontario Wind Power Project on the eastern shore of Lake Huron after the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) overruled objections from area residents concerned about noise, shadow flicker and turbine setback distances. And last month, Canadian Hydro Developers, another Calgary firm, also began road building on a part of its planned 132 MW Melancthon II project after an oral decision from the OMB cleared the way for installaton of up to 70 GE Energy 1.5 MW turbines.

Enbridge faced 38 appeals to the OMB over the Municipality of Kincardine's decision to make zoning changes that would let the project proceed. During the nearly seven week hearing, the board heard from 22 witnesses and considered more than 140 exhibits. It issued its ruling July 16 allowing the project to go ahead, but with two conditions attached. Enbridge must set up a dispute resolution procedure to deal with noise complaints, as well as an emergency services plan to notify the public if there is a danger of ice shedding from turbine blades.

"It feels very, very good," says Enbridge's Debbie Boukydis. "As soon as that decision was received we started to construct the roads that will lead into the wind farm. It is our objective to have 20 to 30 foundations built by the time the snow flies in November, which will put us in a good position to have our first turbine up in April. By the end of the summer we hope to have the entire farm constructed and be producing power."

Turbines in store

The deadline for Enbridge to start delivering electricity under its power purchase contract, which was won through Ontario's November 2005 request for proposals (RFP), is October 2008. The company had been expecting to be producing power by now and has been storing the 110 Vestas 1.65 MW turbines that will be used in the project since it took delivery of them last year.

The project was originally designed to include 121 turbines, but Enbridge downsized it after deciding to pull out of the neighbouring community of Saugeen Shores because of local objections to the 11 turbines slated for that jurisdiction. It also made changes to the layout of the remaining turbines, increasing planned setbacks from adjacent property lines to 121 metres from the original 50 metres.

But some area residents, who organised as the Windfarm Action Group, wanted bigger setbacks. "We did work with all of our stakeholders to try to come up with some compromises to make everyone, if not happy, then at least all right with the project. We knew it was highly unlikely, given the concerns of the Windfarm Action Group, that we were ever going to be able to achieve what they wanted, particularly with the setbacks they were looking at. We would not have been able to build the farm," she says. During the hearing, the OMB heard evidence calling for setbacks of a kilometre or more.

Getting close

Meanwhile, Canadian Hydro Developers is expecting to start site work at Melancthon before the fall. "We are in the process of securing the remaining permits and approvals at both municipal and provincial levels ahead of construction works," says the company's Kent Brown. Some of the project's turbines, planned for the adjacent Township of Amaranth, still need OMB approval at a separate hearing set to begin this month and expected to last for six weeks.

Like Enbridge, Canadian Hydro took delivery of turbines for the project last year and expected to be producing power by now. But also like Enbridge, it hit hurdles in both the environmental assessment and local permitting processes. In fact, it was the company that initiated the OMB proceedings because neither township was making zoning decisions within the timelines specified by Ontario's Planning Act.

Costly delays

The delays have cost both companies. Last year, Canadian Hydro estimated a one-year extension of Melancthon II's in-service date would raise its price tag by C$10 million, mostly related to the storage and additional handling of turbine parts. It is continuing to assess the cost impact and says it will provide an update after the decision from the upcoming Amaranth hearing is released. Enbridge's Boukydis would only say its Ontario project is costing more than originally expected.

Canadian Hydro also went before the OMB in July over its 197.8 MW Wolfe Island Wind Project near Kingston. Two island residents appealed the local township's zoning approval for the project, which will utilize 86 Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbines, over concerns that the turbines were too close to homes and wetlands.

The hearing came to an early end after the company negotiated a settlement with the residents that, among other things, increases the setback guidelines contained in the zoning bylaw. Rob Miller, project engineer at Wolfe Island, says the original guidelines provided in bylaw were a prescribed minimum. Canadian Hydro's detailed project analysis had already determined the turbine setbacks would be greater. "So in a way the settlement provides some clarity to the original zoning bylaw and amends things to reflect what we have already determined."

There is still work to do before construction of Wolfe Island can start, including completion of the provincial environmental assessment process.

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