The M.D. of Smoky River council shared with the public what they learned on a recent tour June 4-6 of wind farms in southern Alberta at an information meeting at Guy on June 28.
The tour was triggered by an application from ABO Wind to erect 25-27 wind turbines north of Falher in the M.D. The proposed $300 million project has bitterly divided residents in the region who are for and against the project.
Reeve Robert Brochu chaired the meeting. He first told residents that ABO’s application to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) is not proceeding until next year, not the end of August as many believed. The AUC has the final say on whether the project proceeds, not the M.D., Brochu reminded residents.
He also answered a question on taxation revenue asked at a previous meeting. The best estimate provided to council on the project is it will generate about $59 million in taxes over 26 years, or about $2,269,00 per year.
“It’s speculation because it’s not built yet,” said Brochu.
“This is the closest I can give you,” he added.
Currently, the M.D. collects between $7-8 million in taxes each year.
The tour included visits to several sites. One visit was at a local coffee shop where council asked people what they thought of their local project. One man simply got up and left.
“You could tell it was a contentious issue,” said Councillor Gilles Roy.
Council heard there was support and opposition to the wind turbines.
Council did speak to realtors who said they could not determine if property values were affected by the wind turbines either way because not enough data was available.
Brochu did offer some advice.
“Educate the landowners,” said Brochu referring to advice given to them from southern Alberta.
“We heard there are good companies and bad companies. Let them (residents) know. They might not know that.”
During questions from the audience, councillors said they did not notice any noise concerns, but added they were not there when winds were high.
One woman asked if there was a risk that the company would not pay taxes, similar to oil and gas companies in recent years.
Brochu replied there was always a risk.
“No guarantees,” but he added most oil and gas companies were now paid up to date.
Brochu did warn residents once they signed an agreement, the were locked in for good. It was another reason why education was so important, he added, and suggested anyone interested to contact the Farmer’s Advocate, who will provide assistance.
“They are 100 per cent unbiased,” said Brochu.
Smoky River Wind Concerns Group does not want to shut down the project entirely (they are concerned over potential negative health effects), but has asked the M.D. to amend its current bylaw allowing wind turbines increased to 2,000 metres from the current 800 metres from homes. The amendment if passed, would obviously force the company to alter its plans.
However, Ged Dentinger attended the meeting and informed everyone that ABO Wind has since amended its plans and is now projecting to put turbines 1,000 metres away from homes.
Another lady noted that the AUC makes the final decision and asked council to consider a referendum.
“It will have zero effect on AUC’s decision,” replied Brochu.
The woman disagreed.
“Let us have a say.”
She later added a vote would send a message to the AUC.
Brochu promised to investigate the possibility.
Concerns were also raised over the non-confidential agreement landowners sign with ABO to allow the project to proceed – many say that is a “red flag” in itself, and news that the environmental report is not released until the project is approved. Many believed that was backwards approach.
Brochu and council was asked and criticized on how many people they spoke to.
“Did we talk to enough people?” said Brochu. “Probably not.”
But he added if residents were dealing with a “good company” half the concerns would go away.
“Get a lawyer,” Brochu advised again. “Go talk to the people who signed up.”
Dorine Dentinger, a member of Smoky River Wind Concerns, was abrupt near the end of the meeting.
“I feel that council failed us,” she said.
“Fail is a big word,” replied Brochu. “I feel we did as much as (could) in a short time.”
Brochu was asked if he would allow a wind turbine in his backyard. He replied he already had a Telus tower 1.2 km away.
“I would take windmill 1.2 km away,” he said.
Later, the audience heard there could be some short-term jobs created during construction. Councillor Alain Blanchette cited the benefits of the project by saying a diversified economy is a stable economy.”
Dorine Dentinger disagreed on the job creation during construction saying the project by Vermilion did not create local work, but Brochu replied any road work needed would involve local companies.
Brochu said he and council were frustrated by what he called a backwards process. Normally, a company applied to the M.D. before development, then the M.D advertises the project and goes to the people. In this case, it is completely opposite.
“The (provincial) government has definitely dropped the ball and the M.D.s are left dealing with it” said Councillor Andre Trudeau.
In a project so filled with debate and divisiveness in the Smoky River Region, Brochu did comment on one fact most agree. He said he was “not happy” with the divisiveness caused.
by Chris Clegg