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A new frontier

Ramea wind farm has been humming along for almost two decades

Ramea wind plant. – Courtesy of © Frontier Power

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

RAMEA — While the Port au Port Peninsula waits to see the results of the environmental assessment for the World Energy GH2 project that would see 164 wind turbines placed on the Peninsula and a hydrogen/ammonia production facility in Stephenville, a village on Northwest Island, Ramea, has had windmills in operation for almost two decades. Frontier Power Systems, based out of Georgetown, PEI, chose Ramea as the site for Canada’s first wind-diesel demonstration project back in 2004. The Frontier project focuses on smaller wind turbines than are proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula. The turbines proposed by World Energy GH2 are said to carry a maximum hub height of 121 m, plus a rotor diameter of 158 m, for a likely total maximum height of 200 m, while the turbines in Ramea are installed on 25 meter high, freestanding, lattice towers with a rotor diameter of 15 metres. These wind turbines, which have been operating successfully for 19 years, generate about 500,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year of electricity, which equates to approximately 15 per cent of the power requirements for Ramea. This equates to an offset of approximately 375 tonnes of emissions every year. “There are six medium-sized turbines, all owned by Frontier power,” said Ramea Mayor Ian Stewart via telephone interview. “As a private business, they pay taxes to the Town, same as all the other businesses. In that respect, we’ve got no issues whatsoever. It’s been beneficial.” Frontier Power, like World Energy GH2, first held information sessions to inform residents about their plans and solicit public feedback. “People knew about wind power, but didn’t know too much at the time. It’s hard for me to go back to 2004 and before, but I believe that Carl Brothers, the owner, he came and talked to us, told us basically what he wanted to do, and he’s a very straightforward man, an engineer, and a good businessman on top of that, and the idea was to put the turbines in Ramea to funnel the power from the turbines back through the lines to the power house which would allow the power house to reduce some of its diesel consumption. Over the years, it has done that,” said Stewart.

The outcry that has been experienced on the Port au Port Peninsula, with some individuals expressing concern about what the installation of 164 turbines will mean for the drinking water, the wildlife, and the land where they will be erected, was not the case in Ramea. “People accepted that there may be something positive coming out for the community, but also for the individuals. I think what they were hoping for might have been a direct reduction or stabilization of their electricity rates because of the wind power. Keep in mind now, the man is a businessman. It’s not a social business designed to reduce everybody’s electricity bills. How in the devil would he make his money? But there was a feeling that there might be a reduction for the holding pattern for the electricity rates in Ramea. It didn’t happen, but these turbines are still functioning, he’s still looking after them, and there’s benefits indirectly as opposed to directly,” explained Stewart. “There was no trickery, no weird feelings, no nothing. The man was very straightforward and he absolutely loves what he does. He’s been involved in wind generation most of his life and has had some very successful projects across Canada. We’re just happy to be part of what he’s doing. It’s not impacting us in any serious way. Sometimes the wind turbines are a bit noisy. Sometimes that’s the age of them and sometimes that’s the wind, but they were put in Ramea because of the wind so you’re going to have some noise.” Stewart hasn’t been made aware of any reports of the turbines causing significant issues or health concerns. “There’s no big fences around the properties. I know people are concerned that these other companies are going to come in and fence huge areas and people will have no access to them, going past them or whatever, but we’ve got tiny fences around Frontier’s property so you don’t get tangled up in any of the wires and things like that, but the big ones, they have no fence. You can go right up and touch the towers,” said Stewart. “We haven’t seen anything ridiculously negative. There were jobs created to install them, took no more than a year, and there were a fair number of people working at it initially. There were about six people from Ramea and then there were the outside people with the heavy equipment, the cranes and things like that, and right now we have one guy who services it, the turbines, and Frontier Power sends people in every so often to inspect them.” While the foray into wind energy in Ramea has been positive, Stewart recognizes that a lot of factors have to be addressed in order for individuals to feel comfortable with projects such as this. “People need to be able to talk openly and freely with whoever is going to put up the wind turbines in any area, like Port au Port. They need the short, medium, and long-term picture of where it is going. They need to know if it’s a purely private venture, will it indirectly or directly benefit the people? Will there only be direct benefits through the installation and maintaining it? Out in Port au Port, there seems to be a strong feeling of disrespect for the land. That’s what I’ve been seeing. Whether it’s true or it’s just a small group, I just don’t know, but I know there’s an awful lot of friction,” said Stewart. “This is going to take place regardless. Now who does it, that’s the important part. Who does it, what’s the purpose of it, how are they going to disrupt the land, and how will the land be divided because of that? I think that would be our concern if we lived in Port au Port. Where’s the benefits? What are the negatives, and you need the truthful answers put on paper.” The negatives are what have been most concerning to some residents on the Port au Port Peninsula. Protests were staged in Mainland about the development’s effects on their water supply, and a group of protesters recently confronted Industry, Energy and Technology (IET) Minister Andrew Parsons in Corner Brook and were upset with his response. “I was invited to speak at a group called the Humber ACAP and it was a talk on resources, a general chat about resource development in the province, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll come and do that.’ I spoke, did the question and answer session, and one of the conversations at the talk was about wind development and some of the discussions going on in places like Mainland and Port au Port,” said Parsons. “I actually said at the meeting, because somebody mentioned going out there and talking, and I said, ‘To my knowledge I haven’t been invited.’ I generally don’t go where I’m not invited, and I’m also not going anywhere just to be shouted at all day. That’s not what I call consultation. That’s not what I call productive or serving a good use of anybody’s time. When I left the building, I was one of the last people out, and literally cars were pulling into the parking lot. People were hopping out really quickly. I didn’t know what was going on, and I saw a few people walking toward me. I went to shake their hands and say, ‘Hi, how are you’. I could see they were there to see me, and next thing you know it was 12 to 15 people shouting at me, so I said, ‘See you. I’m gone.’” Parsons didn’t think the way he was approached or spoken to would’ve resulted in a positive experience for anyone involved. “It was not a conversation. These weren’t individuals who had any time for actually having a sensible conversation. It was very much, ‘Why are you putting windmills on my land,’ type of deal. So I literally just said, ‘If you wanted to have a conversation, you could’ve just come inside. You didn’t because you don’t want to have a conversation. I’m gone. I have a flight to catch,’ which I did,” said Parsons. “I certainly wasn’t going to miss getting home to see my family on the weekend just to get shouted at and followed, and eventually that turned into cursing and swearing at me, and I don’t have time for that. I certainly didn’t sign up for this job for that. I’ve got all the time in the world to have sensible conversations. I’ve responded to emails and phone calls. I’ve held public meetings, but when people come at you who have one mindset, it’s not going to be changed by me, I can guarantee it.” The suggestion that Parsons has refused to answer questions or listen to concerns by those opposing the project is something he refutes. “That is a bullshit thing to say. It’s absolute untruth and foolishness. I’ve had multiple people, every single day, send me emails, call me. We’ve had meetings. I’ve done that multiple times over the last year, but this is a particular group of people that’s not interested in the development in their area, period. And again, in many cases, some of what I was getting shouted at with wasn’t even close to factual. No, if you think that me listening to you shouting at me is me not willing to answer your questions, well I can’t change your mindset, I can’t change your point of view and I think it’s as far from the truth as possible.” Parsons does appreciate those who bring concerns to his attention and are willing to have a sensible conversation. “There’s a segment of people who think that wind development is a new, novel idea, and in many cases (there are) a lot of misconceptions. I need to be careful not to misconstrue the people that come to me with actual questions, queries, and concerns and doing it in a sensible fashion. That’s normal. This is not a situation where you just agree or disagree right off the top. Many people have really good questions, thought processes and concerns about what this means for them and their area.” One issue that has been raised is the effect the turbines could have on the avian population. Stewart said, based on information he has received, that birds aren’t as negatively impacted as one might think. “There was a man that was hired by Newfoundland Hydro and I believe he was involved with Frontier at some point, to monitor for injured birds and apparently the birds have adjusted very fast,” said Stewart. “They just weren’t running into them, the ducks, crows, little birds. I don’t know the exact numbers but I know it’s extremely low.” The Frontier turbines aren’t the only ones present on the island. “We do have three large turbines in Ramea. They are owned by Newfoundland Hydro and they were designed to produce hydrogen, and they did on a small scale, but once part of Hydro ran into financial difficulties, it was all stopped,” said Stewart. But it seems as though upgrades could be on the horizon in Ramea. “I haven’t spoken to Carl since before Christmas, but from what I understand, Carl is still interested in upgrading the turbines that are there because they are over 17 years old. As far as I know, come the spring, he is going to upgrade the turbines so there is a bit more power. That’s his business model, and if it works it will reduce the diesel oil consumption at our diesel generating plant,” said Stewart. “We know we just can’t keep burning fossil fuels at the rate we’re going, and wind, solar, thermal, all those different types of heat sources, are going to be favoured right now, and that’s with the government too. They want to see a reduction in the amount of fossil fuels being used, and other than what Carl supplies through his windmills, Ramea is totally reliant on diesel, and that’s an awful lot of diesel going through that plant per year.” While his experience has been a positive one in Ramea, whether Stewart would support even more wind development depends on a number of factors. “Given certain parameters, possibly. The company, the attitudes, the short, medium and long of what they want to do, the benefits, both socially and financially, how it’s going to affect the people and the wildlife, there’s a lot of things to consider, but things are changing in the world and we just cannot continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we are,” said Stewart. Parsons says the move toward a greener economy is a step the province needs to take, and Ramea is proof that it can be successful. “Going back almost 20 years now, they’ve had private and public wind developments on that island, and it’s not a big island. The main purpose behind it was to get the community off of diesel systems. As a province, we have a number of places that are still in isolated diesel situations. Ramea is one of them. We also have them in Labrador as well. So through the usage of wind, we’re trying to reduce the usage of diesel, and in Ramea’s case, I think there’s been almost 1.3 million fewer litres of diesel used since that time. So it’s clean, renewable energy. It’s where we need to go, and Ramea is the answer to a lot of these questions,” said Parsons. “I think it is a wonderful opportunity for rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Does it mean we shouldn’t answer questions or ensure we are getting the right benefits and reducing environmental issues? Of course not. That’s what we do anyway and we’ve been doing it in mining and oil for decades now.” Representatives for Frontier Power declined requests for an interview for this article.

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