About 60 people attended a public meeting at the Grand Manan school on April 5 with representatives of Innergex, a Longueuil, Quebec‑based company, that is proposing a wind farm at Dark Harbour on the western side of the island. Under a provincial renewable energy program, New Brunswick Power is seeking proposals to provide up to 40 megawatts of renewable energy each from First Nations and from "local entities" such as communities or regional service commissions. Innergex approached the village last summer. Discussion has occurred since then, and the meeting was the beginning of the public consultation process.
Founded in 1990, Innergex currently has 47 sites including run‑of‑river hydroelectric, wind and solar installations, with two under construction. Ten of their 17 wind farms are in France; there is one hydro site in Idaho, and the rest are in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The company's stated mission promotes renewable energy as part of the solution to climate change, environmental protection and responsible development of natural resources, as well as long‑term cooperation with stakeholders, First Nations and local communities.
Director of Development Louis Robert outlined the company's goals, emphasizing environmental and social responsibility and community partnership. The latter "is part of the philosophy of the company; it's in our DNA" to do something meaningful for a community with positive long‑term impact.
The proposed $60 million wind farm would be sited northeast of Dark Harbour, with five to eight turbines generating 20 megawatts starting in 2020. Local partners C the village and other Fundy Isles or mainland communities -- would have 51% ownership. Atlantic Canada Manager Daniel LeBlanc estimated benefits of $8‑10 million for the region and 120 jobs during construction, three or four long‑term jobs, $100,000 worth of annual supplies, municipal taxes of $40,000 and operating revenue. Innergex would provide 100% of the equity.
In 2004, NB Power and Eastern Wind Power Inc. signed a power purchase agreement for a 20‑megawatt project with 11 windmills on the same site, which was later cancelled. The environmental assessment for that project gives Innergex some background, although LeBlanc said new studies must be done if their project is approved. Some regulations have changed. For example, he said the old plan required the turbines to be set 300 metres from the shoreline, but now the minimum is 500 metres. Wind measurements are ongoing. Factors for impact assessment include bird populations, wildlife, natural features, noise or vibration, nearby land use and human activity. LeBlanc emphasized that public consultation is an important part of the process, with open houses to share information and invite suggestions. They have agreements with landowners but are open to changing the site footprint.
The minimum operating contract is 25 years. A decommissioning plan and fund will be established around year 15. A minimum of $5,000 per year per turbine will go into the fund. At the end of the contract, they will consider extending it. Otherwise, the company is responsible for decommissioning and cleanup, recycling as much material as possible.
The company's website states that "social acceptability [is] the cornerstone of its development strategy." They have previously cancelled or moved projects following community consultation. "It would be an honour for Innergex to be your partner" for the first community wind project in New Brunswick, Robert said.
Audience questions included concern about migrating and nesting birds, alternative coastal sites that aren't on migration routes, and the quality of information on bird populations, since much of the site isn't very accessible to observers. The representatives replied that Grand Manan has more wind, a driving factor in site selection. Birds will be a main focus of environmental assessment. Public Affairs Senior Advisor Francois Morin said, "No project has absolutely no impact, but ... it will be completely studied and you will be absolutely informed."
Atlantic Charters owner Melanie Sonnenberg pointed out that a new approach has recently been developed for the airport and asked if Innergex had been shown the approach fan. Morin said they have provided information to Nav Canada and are waiting for input. "Of course we will follow the guidelines ... to ensure it doesn't interfere in any way" with airport operations. He reiterated that the meeting was the start of a process and invited further communication. Mayor Dennis Greene added that since their first meeting, the airport's importance has been understood and that there would be no harm.
In response to questions about bladeless turbines and solar power, the presenters explained that bladeless technology is still experimental and for small‑scale production. Taller versions lose energy due to the weight of the turbine, and large‑capacity use is years away. While the cost of solar power is coming down, it isn't yet as competitive and has a bigger footprint, and wind is the better resource in this area.
Another resident mentioned wind turbines that collapsed in Nova Scotia. LeBlanc said they have never had such an incident and that the components were built for heavy winds. Robert added that they expect and are prepared for broken blades. Morin later explained that their wind turbines turn at the same speed in winds of 20 kilometres/hour and up because of the mechanics of the gearbox, and in winds over 90 km/h the blades are shut down and feathered to prevent damage.
The project could generate enough electricity for 4,000‑5,000 homes. NB Power is already planning to replace the undersea cable to Grand Manan next year.
In an interview, Morin said renewable energy is currently a very competitive field and that there may be 40 to 50 other proposals. The 51% local ownership may mean one municipality or several with common interests. It is up to the communities to determine their share of the partnership and revenue, but better partnerships mean better projects "because more people work on solutions." Grand Manan would be the majority owner, and its potential partnership with nearby communities is still being discussed.
"It's a great project for Grand Manan," Mayor Greene says. With plans for a new aquatic center and expansion of the airport runway, he believes profits from the wind farm would help significantly with the cost.
Two projects will be awarded this year. The submission deadline is April 28, with a decision expected by December. If Innergex's plan is chosen, environmental assessments would span another 18 months.