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Questions and concerns heard at wind farm open house

Residents pack venue in St. Paul as many are strongly opposed to multi-million-dollar project by Northland Power.

ST. PAUL, Alta. - While the cold wind blew outside, wind was the topic of conversation inside during an open house held by Northland Power regarding a proposed wind farm known as the Pihew Waciy Wind Project, located within a portion of the County of St. Paul.

Held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Reunion Station in St. Paul, people came and went throughout the open house, although by 5:30 p.m., the venue was packed with a number of residents who expressed strong opposition to the proposed project.

Speaking at about 5 p.m., Chris Stanton, project developer with Northland Power, said the turnout throughout the day had been "fantastic," and there was "definitely a lot of interest."

Representatives with Northland Power were on hand to listen to questions. "[There were] definitely a lot of questions we need to follow-up and send more information to the neighbours."

While there were people who came in with concerns, Stanton said there were also some who stopped by to "express their support" for their project. 

"Any large infrastructure project whether it's a solar farm or wind farm, or big new road or something like that, usually attracts quite a bit of interest," said Stanton. 

Chris Habiak is a resident who could potentially see at least three wind turbines erected within 1,000 metres of his home. He is among a group of residents who are expressing opposition to the project.

“We’re hoping to put a stop to this project," he said, after the open house wrapped up, and a day prior to a planned protest that would see the same group of residents make their way down main street and arrive at the County of St. Paul administration office in time for council's monthly meeting on Nov. 22.

While the project is not in the hands of the local municipality, some residents have asked to attend as a delegation to discuss the project with council, which according to Habiak, has been denied due to legal issues.

When asked about his feelings following Wednesday's open house, Habiak noted that he felt residents were heard.

"I felt we got our point across," he said, adding, representatives with Northland Power have told residents further consultation could be possible in the form of a townhall meeting, rather than an open house format. 

Habiak says he's been trying to connect with Northland Power for years, since hearing of the project, and Wednesday's open house was the first time he was able to connect directly with Northland Power.

Some people came in with very specific questions on issues about environmental studies that were completed,and "decommissioning has been a big issue tonight," said Stanton, while speaking with Lakeland This Week at the open house.

He says the public is looking for a commitment from the company that the turbines will be removed at the end of the project. There were also questions around noise, location, and how much energy is coming from the project.

"We heard a lot tonight about 'did you guys adequately assess the risk to birds?' and then... we've heard a lot as well, which is maybe a little different than some jurisdictions, we've heard a lot of concern and questions about the end of the life of the wind farm."

Northland Power is making the investment in the project based on the idea that it is a 30-year investment.

"We've told folks tonight that under the County's bylaw and under the AUC requirements, we have to make a firm commitment to remove this infrastructure at the end of its usable life." The power company is also willing to put down a security, "Whether that's a letter of credit or a bond" to ensure funds are available to take the turbines down.

The project is now "firmly" in the Alberta Environment and Parks review process, says Stanton. The project is "in front of the regulators at AEP and they are reviewing the environmental risk and environmental assessment of this facility and they are starting to come back with questions and comments, and we hope to satisfy them that we've done our diligence here and we certainly hope that they come back to us with a referral that shows the project is not a risk to the environment," he explained.

The current process usually takes a couple months and at this point, Northland Power does not expect to file an application with the AUC before the new year.

"We had some initial discussions with the County [of St. Paul]," although Northland Power is not at the stage of applying for a development permit, yet.

When asked if there was a main message he would like to get across to the public, Stanton said, "We are committed as a company to providing transparent honest information about the project."

RELATED STORY - Wind farm developer discusses multi-million dollar project

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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