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Wind power project generates landowner dissent

The company behind the project is saying little about its plans.

ST. PAUL - While the company behind a wind energy generating project being considered for an area east of St. Paul will say little about what stage the project is at, land agents working on behalf of Northland Power have quietly been continuing to negotiate agreements with property owners for the last several years and as recently as this winter.

Almost six years ago, residents in the Shamrock Valley/Chicken Hill area in the eastern portion of the County of St. Paul first began to receive visits from a land agent looking to secure access to land for a wind farm project spread over a proposed area of 10,000 to 15,000 acres. A company spokesperson at the time told the St. Paul Journal the project would initially involve about 30 turbines which could expand to include anywhere between 60 to 90 turbines as the project developed over a larger land base.

Fast forward to today, and it quickly becomes apparent the project is increasingly becoming a contentious issue for landowners in the area while Northland Power remains tight-lipped about its plans.

With Northland Power apparently offering $10,000 per turbine annually once built and operational, agreeing to grant access to their land is enticing for some property owners. However, for others no amount of money makes the prospect of massive wind turbines stretching across the skyline in any way appetizing.

Murry and Lisa Nielsen signed up with Northland Power in 2016. For them it was more about being in the driver’s seat when it came to the proposed development than anything else.

“We decided we would be on the ground floor, to be in the deciding factor on some of this stuff if this project went ahead,” Murry said, adding the agreement does not specify the number of wind towers or the positioning of the structures on their property, but he believes that by agreeing to allow the development on their land it enables them to have some control as to how this project takes shape.

“Whenever you stand in the way of progress you either get run over or you get left behind. In this case, we felt we were going to stand in this situation and see where it went.”

Murray recognizes there are neighbours who are opposed to the project.  He also acknowledges he and his wife will neither see nor hear the turbines as their residence is not located near the proposed development area. However, he said people can’t be oblivious to the fact that an increasing population is demanding an ever-increasing power supply, while at the same time there is global pressure to come up with alternative energy sources.

“At some point in time it’s either going to be solar panels or windmills or towers or wells of some kind to keep up with the insatiable appetite for the need for power,” Lisa adds.

Northland Power declined to provide a map of the proposed area for the wind farm, and declined to comment on the scope of the project, development timelines or to comment on any environmental assessments that have been undertaken in preparation for moving forward with development. However, there is some indication the company has rejigged its initial development footprint, moving the project further to the east of Shamrock Valley Road in the area of Range Road 71 and 73, north and south of Hwy. 29, based on what local landowners are saying.

In an emailed statement to Lakeland This Week, Victor Gravili, Northland Power’s head of Brand and Integrated Communications, described the company as a Canadian-owned global power producer focused on generating electricity from renewable resources including wind, solar and natural gas.

“We have a number of prospective projects at various stages of development in Alberta. We can confirm that we are considering a project in the Elk Point/St. Paul area which is still early in the development process,” Gravili noted. “We anticipate that in the coming months, we will have enough information to start meaningful and informative engagement with rightsholders and stakeholders in the area.”

For those landowners opposed to the project, more information can’t come soon enough as they fear some of their neighbours are signing away their property rights without being fully aware of the implications over the long term.

Feeling cornered

Chris Habiak owns a quarter of land in the area and has been approached several times in recent years by a land agent attempting to get him to sign up and grant them tenancy. He said he was told the neighbours have signed up and he may as well get a piece of the pie also.

The pressure to get on board has Habiak feeling somewhat cornered.

“He said ‘you’re right in the middle. We are putting turbines up, two to the south of you, we’re going to put two to the east of you and we’re putting several up to the north of you. So it’s your option, whether you want to sign or not, I’d hate for you to be living in the middle of this and not get any compensation for it.’ That’s when I took the agreement to the lawyer and he said he wouldn’t sign it but maybe we could get negotiation on some of the points.”

That proved fruitless and Habiak has resolved himself to the fact he will likely be surrounded by wind turbines erected on adjacent property if the project goes ahead and he will not receive any compensation for the negative impact on the quality of life he and his family currently enjoys.

“I will not consider signing. My two options are I fight this or I move away. I like the area, I grew up here, I have a business here, I have a home and family and it would just kill me to move.”

Habiak is opposed to the wind farm on a number of fronts which range from adverse health effects to environmental impacts and the imprint such a development will have on the landscape changing it forever. He particularly questions the sense of installing 300-ft wind turbines through a populated, largely agricultural area and he worries people won’t know it’s coming until it’s too late.

Winds of change

The winds of change may be blowing, but Habiak is convinced this wind project is a mistake.

“I feel there’s much better ways to fight climate change, these turbines aren’t the way to do it. These turbines aren’t just going to affect us right on the land beside them, they are going to effect the entire community.”

Another area landowner, Mitchell Paquette, is equally opposed to the project. Born and raised in the Shamrock Valley area, he is not eager to see the “massive structures towering in our community” and he is concerned the project is causing a rift in the area.

“They are signing up now but don’t understand the consequences behind those windmills. The noise, the vibrations - the vibration in the ground disturbs the ecosystem. I’ve grown up in that county that I know and love and I am very passionate about it. They are going to be moving in this stuff. Do I want to be looking at turbine? Do I want that beside me?”

Paquette said there has been no community consultation and nobody really knows who has signed agreements and who hasn’t. He is worried land values will drop and people will tie themselves to contracts that leave them with little ability to manage their own land as they see fit without first contacting Northland Power for approval.

“They get the community going against each other and the next thing you know the other guy is saying - ‘Oh jeez that son of a gun’s going to get that money and God I want that money and so I’m going to sign up’ - It’s a sad thing where it’s dollars that people are thinking,” Paquette said.

“The consequences behind the actions will catch up sooner than later and it will be too late if it’s not too late already.”

Clare Gauvreau

About the Author: Clare Gauvreau

Clare Gauvreau has worked for the St. Paul Journal for more than 20 years as a journalist, editor and publisher. In her role today as newspaper publisher she continues to contribute news and feature articles on a regular basis.
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