One of several wind projects proposed to supply renewable energy to EverWind Fuels’ hydrogen project at Point Tupper has hit a pocket of resistance.
The wind project, named Bear Lake Wind, is majority owned by Membertou First Nation (through a subsidiary called Wind Strength) and minority partner EverWind Fuels.
Bear Lake Wind has filed an Environmental Assessment with the Department of Environment & Climate Change to build a 15-turbine wind farm south of Windsor.
Although named “Bear Lake,” the wind farm is actually closer to Armstrong Lake, a spot popular with cottagers.
The Bear Lake wind farm would be situated about six kilometres from the South Canoe wind farm, where 34 turbines have been turning since 2015.
A third wind project, Benjamin Mills, is approved for 28 turbines and is under construction eight kilometres northwest of Bear Lake, or 14 kilometres south of Windsor. That wind farm is expected to begin operating by December 2024.
Steve Hart heads up a community group called Protect Vaughan (Upper and Lower Vaughan, which are located between Windsor and New Ross). This past week Hart sent a letter to the councillors and mayor of the Municipality of West Hants, where most of the Bear Lake wind farm will be sited.
To complicate matters, the 1,214-hectare (3,000-acre) project also spills into both the Municipality of the District of Chester and the Halifax Regional Municipality, so development agreements must also be signed with those municipalities.
Hart is asking West Hants councillors to amend the municipal plan to stall the development of Bear Lake, as well as any other proposed wind farm, for at least two years. The proposed amendment reads:
No large wind turbine or wind farm shall be considered inside a 20km radius from an existing or under construction large wind turbine or wind farm, or an approved development agreement for a large wind turbine or wind farm, until all large wind turbines or wind farms falling within the 20km radius have operated at project capacity for a minimum of 24 months. Protect Vaughan is requesting this amendment due to the potential environmental consequences that could arise from such projects, including, but not limited to, bird migration, sight and sound effects, property values, localized weather pattern changes, and general quality of life for affected residents.
Hart’s is at least the second letter concerning Bear Lake to land on the desks of West Hants councillors.
Premier Tim Houston sent councillors a copy of the province’s recently released Clean Energy Plan, which touts new wind developments as the main driver to reduce carbon emissions and hit a legislated target of 80% renewable electricity by 2030.
Wind currently accounts for only 14% of Nova Scotia’s electricity but the Clean Energy Plan wants that to double over the next seven years.
The letter signed by Houston is generic one and does not mention Bear Lake or any specific wind project. The letter concludes:
I am hopeful municipalities across the Province will join me in my excitement and optimism for our wind sector. If you have any questions about our plan, please reach out to our team and we would be happy to walk you through the plan.
Steve Hart says he has zero experience as an activist and his property is not affected by the Bear Lake wind farm, which is less than half the size of South Canoe. Hart wasn’t part of the citizens’ group that fought the South Canoe project 10 years ago.
But Hart says he began to get anxious in September after attending an open house sponsored by EverWind, where he says he couldn’t get clear answers about the size and the location of the wind farm.
“Originally, I was extremely concerned our little community is going to be the guinea pig for a hydrogen project that the Germans still haven’t signed a contract for,” says Hart. “And EverWind as a company is less than two years old.”
The electricity produced at Bear Lake is supposed to flow 300km north to supply EverWind Fuels’ proposed plant to produce hydrogen, which will then be converted to ammonia and cooled for export.
Hart’s cousin Jason Hart has a more local concern. At a public meeting the Harts organized for October 14 at the Little Red Schoolhouse, Jason Hart says he asked if wind turbines would be located on Crown land, where the Harts and other local families have enjoyed hiking and other recreational activities.
Jason Hart claims EverWind chief financial officer Daniel Lee told him “not one bit” of the turbines would be on Crown land. But 10 days later, any trust the company had been trying to build in the community evaporated for Jason Hart; EverWind filed an Environmental Assessment that shows seven of the 15 turbines would be located on Crown land.
At this point, EverWind says 45% of the project will be situated on Crown land, provided that the province approves EverWind’s request for a licence. This is a big deal for the Harts.
“My issue with the project is that it is going on two of the only parcels of Crown land that are accessible in our area,” says Steve Hart. “Six or seven generations of families have used these Crown lands for hunting, fishing, berry picking. There are endangered species on this parcel like the mainland moose, Canada warbler, and pine marten and it is also bordering the South Panuke wilderness area.”
EverWind’s correspondence with Protect Vaughan indicates it is in the process of doing further studies on bird migration and endangered species.
The Environmental Assessment (EA) says by using existing logging roads, the impact on the moose will be lessened. From the EA:
Although some area considered to be high-quality Mainland moose habitat will require alteration or removal to construct the Project, the design has maximized the use of existing infrastructure and disturbed areas such that the overall area of habitat loss is small and the direct impacts to moose habitat are expected to be low.
EverWind officials have told local residents that hunters and snowmobilers will still be able to still use trails crossing Crown land as long as people keep their distance from the base of the turbines.
The company states the turbines will be setback “at least 2 kilometers” from any residence.
Everwind Fuels CEO Trent Vichie and other officials met with Vaughan residents at a public meeting hosted by the community group on October 14, where they attempted to reassure citizens any disruptions from the project would be short-lived and minor.
Is this NIMBYism?
Subsequent email correspondence between Steve Hart and EverWind’s Daniel Lee states the company is willing to provide a “subsidy” of $70,000 that would be shared among residents whose civic addresses fall within a certain radius of the Bear Lake project.
The company’s Environmental Assessment document does not appear to contain any reference to a “subsidy,” although it mentions setting up a Community Liaison Committee.
Given the pressure on the province to find greener ways to generate electricity, the Examiner asked the Harts if they are fundamentally opposed to all wind projects or just this one (or to be blunt, is this a case of NIMBY — not-in-my-back-yard?).
Steve and Jason Hart said they aren’t upset by the Benjamin Mills development 14km south of Windsor because it’s not on Crown land and it’s further away from homeowners.
But the Harts insist having three wind farms on both sides of their valley will potentially lower property values for residents of Upper and Lower Vaughan “between 12 and 40%.”
That estimate is based on British and North American studies reported by Forbes magazine in 2015.
Perhaps not surprisingly, results from studies done in different parts of the world differ. When it comes to predicting the impact of wind farms on property values, the jury is still out.
A study by an agricultural economist on wind farms in southern Ontario determined that whether property values decreased or stayed the same depended on whether the “host” community accepted or rejected the development. The University of Guelph’s Richard Vyn wrote:
I analyzed sales data from more than 22,000 rural residential properties across 14 counties in southern Ontario between 2002 and 2013. Many of these properties are in close proximity to wind turbines. Wind turbines caused negative impacts on property values up to four kilometres away, with these impacts ranging from a four per cent to an eight per cent decrease in property values. The magnitude of the impact increased as the number of wind turbines in close proximity to the property increased. Studies in other jurisdictions around the world have not provided a clear answer as to whether property values drop when a wind farm is built nearby.
However, in communities that welcomed wind projects — which can contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax to municipalities — Vyn found no decline in property values:
Wind turbines had a negative impact on property values only in unwilling host municipalities, while no impacts were observed in unopposed municipalities. These results suggest that residents’ attitudes toward wind energy may influence the nature of turbine impacts: jurisdictions with greater opposition to wind turbines may be more likely to experience negative impacts on property values.
Is South Canoe producing the promised power?
The Harts say they initially believed wind farms were benign sources of renewable electricity. But that changed this summer when they undertook to “educate themselves” about the workings of the biggest wind farm in the province, South Canoe.
The access road to South Canoe is currently gated, but during July and August, it was open and the Harts made a couple of trips to “look around” at the nine-storey high turbines manufactured by Acciona.
The Harts say conversations with locals who had worked on maintaining the turbines claimed many had been shut down over the past two years and the wind farm had not been able to generate the expected 312 gigawatt-hours (GWh) a year.
The Harts shared images of a creaking wind turbine and another where absorbent pads had been placed around the base to sop up oil (used to lubricate the turbine) from leaking into the ground. They noticed a 45-gallon drum of gearbox oil left open to the air and rain. The Harts believe these photographs raise questions about environmental issues, as well as how well South Canoe is both performing and being maintained.
But the images don’t provide any information about how much electricity South Canoe has been generating for the grid.
The Examiner has run into a headwind of secrecy trying to learn if the largest wind farm in the province has been hitting its target of renewable energy production.
South Canoe was one of the first wind projects built after the province announced its renewable energy strategy. In 2013, the Utility and Review Board approved its $93 million cost to ratepayers, and South Canoe was built by a consortium that included Oxford Frozen Foods, Minas Basin Pulp & Power, and Nova Scotia Power.
Nova Scotia Power is also the customer for the renewable electricity.
The project description read, “The South Canoe site is expected to produce 312 GWh/annum on average, over a 10-year forecast period.” The Examiner asked Nova Scotia Power, “What has been the output — the GWh/annum on average — for the past eight years the South Canoe wind farm has been operating?”
The short answer is…we weren’t able to get an answer.
Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Kenny Cameron said, “due to confidentiality provisions in our Power Purchase Agreements, we are unable to provide those details beyond 2020.” (Ah, the familiar “commercial confidentiality” argument.) Cameron did however provide a limited response for the year 2020:
… we are limited in the information we are able to provide on specific site operations and annual energy output. However, I can share that in the 2022 General Rate Application filed with the UARB, the 2020 net generation at South Canoe was noted to be 301.9 GWh… All 34 turbines at South Canoe are considered in service, although the number of turbines operating at any given time also fluctuates based on maintenance and repair requirements.
That was three years ago. What about today?
Cameron added this comment about the turbine images taken by the Harts at South Canoe this summer:
Wind turbines do contain gearbox oil as well as hydraulic oil. Any release of oil to the environment must be managed in accordance with environmental regulations. We have been assured that the issue you raised is being appropriately addressed. For their safety, we would ask all members of the community to please respect the site and private property boundaries at all times.
In other words, “No Trespassing.” But no details on how the “issue” is being addressed.
The Examiner contacted Oxford Frozen Foods, which manages the South Canoe wind farm to ask about its annual output, but CFO Geoff Baldwin was quick to say Oxford is a private company and will not answer questions from the media.
A check with the Utility and Review Board that sets power rates and monitors NS Power fuel costs turned up this tantalizing reference to South Canoe during a 2021-2022 audit:
The redactions make it impossible to know if the reductions were small or large, but South Canoe is the largest wind farm or Independent Power Producer (IPP) in the province.
It’s not clear which “safety issues” at South Canoe resulted in lower-than-expected wind power production in 2022.
The Examiner will try to confirm whether the Labour Department ordered modifications to the turbines based on Occupational Health and Safety concerns.
The South Canoe wind farm was opened in 2015, using turbines produced by Acciona, a Spanish firm. Acciona was acquired by the German firm Nordex in 2016.
In July, the CBC reported that a P.E.I. wind farm at Hermanville that installed Acciona turbines in 2014 saw a 65% drop in production over the past two years, and that some of the turbines have been offline for over a year.
Groundwater, wells, and dynamite Concerns
Finally, the geology of the area where the wind farm is being proposed contains arsenic and uranium. As many as 68 wells could potentially be affected. The environmental assessment submitted by EverWind states:
Construction activities, primarily blasting (if required), have the potential to impact the quality and quantity of surrounding groundwater supply depending on the proximity to drinking water wells and extent of disturbance caused by construction activities… risk mapping shows the Study Area is predominately situated in a “High Risk” region for arsenic and uranium containing bedrock.
Until the geotechnical assessment is submitted at the end of the year, it’s unknown whether blasting will be needed. If it is, there are environmental regulations that must be followed.
The conclusion of the Environment Assessment document with respect to the potential impact on wells and groundwater is: “Results are characterized as moderate to high magnitude, within the Local Assessment Area, short-term duration, intermittent, reversible, and not significant.”
Since the October 14 community meeting attended by about 70 people at the Little Red Schoolhouse, there has been a steady flow of questions and answers between Steve Hart with Protect Vaughan and EverWind Fuels’ Daniel Lee.
The Progressive Conservative MLA for West Hants, Melissa Sheehy-Richard, briefly attended that meeting and told constituents she didn’t have much information about the project.
But the Environment Assessment document filed for Bear Lake shows Sheehy-Richard received a virtual briefing on August 14 and met in person with EverWind CEO Trent Vichie on October 12 — two days before the community meeting.
Steve Hart says he initially started asking questions about Bear Lake because he was surprised a third wind development was coming to the Vaughan area and there was so little public information available.
That’s no longer the case now that he is in regular contact with the proponent and a 300-page environmental assessment has been filed. Key components such as a geotechnical assessment and the detailed design of the wind farm are yet to come.
And despite the offer of compensation to people who will live closest to the proposed wind project, Steve Hart says he is more opposed to Bear Lake now than he was initially:
Aside from the South Canoe and now the Benjamin Mills project, there are no studies done on the cumulative impact of wind farms spaced this way. I had asked people from EverWind about the impact on wells and if they were going to pay to have wells tested before and after the project and they said there was nothing to worry about. But we DO have stuff to worry about.
If the Environmental Assessment gets approved, construction activities are proposed to begin in the spring of 2024, with the project is expected to operate for 35 years.
Steve and Jason Hart would like to see EverWind hit pause on Bear Lake until further study can be done.
According to the Harts, a visibly upset Trent Vichie told the Oct 14 meeting at the Little Red Schoolhouse, “if the community didn’t want the project there, then he would pack it up and move it away.” The Harts plan to take him at his word.