08 Feb Citizens’ group forms over proposed Cassel wind farm
By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
A grassroots organization has formed in East Zorra-Tavistock to raise concerns about a potential wind farm for the Cassel area.
The Gazette broke a story last week after Prowind approached several landowners in the area for a new project, as well as landowners to the south, toward Innerkip, in hopes of rekindling a wind farm first introduced there eight years ago.
Davis Cunningham and Rick Hommes, both farmers who reside within the proposed Cassel wind farm area, are leading the group. Sixty farmers and landowners attended a meeting last Thursday at a local church to have a discussion and Cunningham said the overwhelming message was to say no to the turbines.
“It took us a while to get there because people were a little nervous and one of the suggestions from the audience was that we should take a vote. That went to, ‘Let’s have a show of hands,’ and I couldn’t see any who were opposed. We knew he had support going forward to go to council and give everybody a comfort level that they have a voice here.”
A presentation to EZT’s elected officials is expected at the Feb. 21 regular meeting in Hickson. The group has identified four main concerns and is pulling no punches when asked if one stands out.
“It’s all four things, but the impact on the neighbourhood was our number-one point. Let’s try to avoid pitting neighbour against neighbour. Let’s treat everyone with respect, even those who want to sign (contracts). I am not going to spend any time coming up with things against Prowind. They are a business trying to put a product in place,” Cunningham said.
Another concern is the deterioration of prime agricultural land, something both farmers say they want to preserve. Cunningham said Hommes partnered with him for that very reason.
“I own land here and Rick is a progressive young farmer looking to hand his farm down to his kids in the future. If there are enough people interested to make a go of it, then the next concern is setting these (turbines) far enough back so that we don’t impact people and livestock.”
He added the setback regulations don’t make sense and many countries have increased the distance required from animal or human life.
The Feb. 1 meeting was initially by invitation only and flyers were put in the mailboxes of people who are landowners and live in the Cassel area, omitting those who own land but live elsewhere.
“We decided to go a little beyond those borders with people who were very close and would have a sightline of wind turbines. Unfortunately, a couple of people did come in and we had to have a conversation at the door just to say, ‘It’s nothing personal, but this meeting is not about pros and cons.’ We want to hear what our community has to say,” said Cunningham.
One of those asked to leave owns land near Cassel and has already signed on to the project while the other owns land in the proposed project area closer to Innerkip.
The Gazette reached out to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) for their stance on wind farms in Oxford County and was given the following statement by Oxford and Elgin zone director Tracey Arts.
“OFA understands that energy demands are increasing rapidly and our farm businesses are part of that growing demand. It will take a mix of all types of energy generation infrastructure to meet the growing demand for reliable, affordable and sustainable power. Finding the balance between responsible land-use planning in rural areas and protecting Ontario’s most viable food-producing lands is an important factor in the conversation.”
Cunningham admitted he was surprised when he read the OFA statement.
“We used to be so protective of prime farmland. We need to keep protecting it. A comment we heard from the people in the audience last week was they just want to farm. They love it, they want to produce and we need to be very sensitive in this country.”
The group understands the push and the timeline of renewable energy in terms of a carbon-neutral footprint, but they believe wind farms aren’t the way.
“You can’t just let everything go. It’s not the wild west. You need to have other options and think through what’s best,” he added.
Another top-of-mind point for the group is the contracts required for a wind project, which members say is heavily slanted toward Prowind in terms of where the turbines are located and the required roadway to reach it, which is 20 feet wide. The two projects are also slated to use taller turbines than the ones at Gunn’s Hill. A substation would also require as much as two to three acres of land.
Prowind vice president Helmut Schneider said the current agreement does not specify the exact height and several factors go into that decision.
“The turbine dimensions are determined as per project requirements and in compliance with local regulations and environmental considerations. Turbine dimensions have indeed evolved and the two-megawatt turbines we used at Gunn’s Hill would not be considered efficient or effective in today’s standards.”
He added a 145- to 165-metre turbine height is very common today. As for the contract, Schneider said it emphasizes fairness, transparency and compliance with local laws, aiming to balance both the company’s operational needs and the landowners’ rights.
“I am glad to meet with individual landowners to discuss details in the option agreement, listen to concerns and learn from them, and to find answers to any questions now and throughout the development process.”
The Gazette was told by a source there are enough people signed up with the project near Innerkip to move forward, but the Cassel project requires more interested landowners.
“For the Innerkip project, we are encouraged by the interest shown so far,” Schneider said. “While this is a positive start, the project’s progression will depend on various factors including further community engagement and regulatory approvals. As for Cassel, we are currently in the process of engaging with the community and assessing interest levels. The exact number of participants is still being determined as we continue our outreach efforts.”
Cunningham and Homme said they are planning another community meeting shortly.