LITTLE CURRENT—Members of the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm Project held their fourth and what may well be their final meeting at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current (CLC) on Wednesday, November 26.
The committee opened its deliberations with a welcome and introductions conducted by independent facilitator Nancy Coldham.
“It seems so beautiful,” said Ms. Coldham of the view of the wind farm coming onto Manitoulin Island. “It sort of gives you a breathtaking view of it all.”
Ms. Coldham introduced Technical Writer, Operations, Zornitza Doneva, Environmental Manager and Health and Safety Officer Jim Mulvale from Northland’s Toronto offices and local Operator Humphrey Daniso.
Following a short recap of meeting three and the approval of minutes by the committee, Mr. Mulville provided a brief overview of the positive environmental benefits of the project and the data collection that is ongoing. He noted that there was a requirement for greater environmental oversight due to a change in the transmission and protection lines that eliminated the stringing of a significant amount of additional wire.
Wind Project Manager Rick Martin provided an update on operations and maintenance, including issues that arose during the industrial wind farm’s commissioning and first six months of operations.
He noted that Northland has gathered 10 years of wind data from the region. “It is probably the most studied region in the province,” he said.
“I have never in my life paid so much attention to the wind,” laughed Mr. Daniso.
“Wind is wind,” said Mr. Martin, but he noted that the wind farm managers must be keenly aware of the vagaries of the wind, its shifts nuances and habits, in order to be able to maximize the amount of wind energy they can capture.
As with any new major development, there have been a number of glitches, both minor and some more significant, that have been worked through as the wind farm has been brought online that have resulted in the project being shut down, noted Mr. Martin. “There have been so many changes since I first became involved in this industry,” noted Mr. Martin, particularly in the remote control of the power generation and connection to the grid. “I used to twirl dials and knobs,” he said. “Now it is all digital.”
The issues met during the first six months of operation at the wind farm itself have not been untoward, noted Mr. Martin, especially “with so many components coming together and three feeder lines.”
But with General Electric (the wind turbine manufacturer) personnel onsite and Northland’s own cadre of engineers pulling together, the challenges have been met, assured Mr. Martin.
He reported that the grading and re-greening efforts at the site have been largely completed and have met and exceeded the project’s commitments.
The wind farm construction company, HP White, is still onsite vegetating the sides of the roads, noted Mr. Martin.
The McLean’s Wind Farm project is owned through a 50/50 partnership between Northland Power and the Mnidoo Mnissing (UCCMM) Power and is operating under a 20-year contract with Ontario Power Generation.
Mr. Martin noted that the anticipated lifespan of the project is at least 30 years. “When the contract with OPG is over, if they no longer want the power, we will be actively looking for other customers,” Mr. Martin assured the committee. He said that he anticipated the wind farm turbines would be operating far longer than any sunset on a single contract.
Among the issues that faced the power generation at the wind farm was the less-than-intuitive impact of a wet spring and the bounty of hydro-electric generation that brought online.
“The spring runoff really impacted us,” said Mr. Martin as he listed the main feeder lines that the project uses. “We feed in through Martindale,” he said. Should the lines become filled to capacity, the wind farm gets the call. “Any issues, we are dispatched to reduce our load.”
Anyone looking at the number of shutdowns that have taken place since the wind farm came online could be forgiven for asking themselves “are they that unreliable” said Mr. Martin, but many of the occasions that the turbines have been motionless while the wind has been blowing since going online has been due to issues outside of the wind farm and its equipment.
Throughout the maintenance and remediation work Northland Power has kept worker safety paramount in its considerations, noted Mr. Martin.
One of the minor glitches that have actually had a beneficial impact for the project was one regarding the paint on the turbines. Due to the paint not adhering well to the metal, each had to be repainted. “They all look brand new,” quipped Mr. Martin.
General Electric has been conducting break-in maintenance on the equipment as well, as the units come up to full speed a number of parts and fittings have been engineered to change to meet their operating parametres. “They get worn into their normal operating mode,” he said. As that break in period continues, some unforeseen modifications are required, but on a project of this size and complexity, that has been anticipated.
The company has undertaken a number of innovative steps to reduce the impact the wind turbine project has on its neighbours, noted Mr. Martin. “The most recent, post construction complaints can be characterized as: noise (one complainant), excess security lighting, radio signal interference and altered drainage pattern concerns within some forested/off road trails,” he said.
Among the steps the company and the turbine manufacturer have taken are the inclusion of specialized scallops on the turbine blades themselves, installed to reduce wind noise and a revamp of the security lighting at the transformer and transfer stations.
Lighting to provide security at the sites has been improved dramatically and to the benefit of those within view of those locations through the use of motion detectors that bring up the lights should a certain mass move within the area of the sites.
Some of the precautions that are required as part of the company’s operating parameters might cause people concern, such as the installation of blast walls between the transformers, but these are normal precautions taken to enhance site safety.
Wind noise seems to be linked to times of low wind, noted Mr. Martin, pointing out that when the wind is travelling at higher speeds, the sound of the turbines appears to be subsumed into the sound of the wind blowing through the trees.
“We document all complaints and conduct a monthly summary review internally to ensure legitimate concerns are being addressed/planned for resolution,” he said. “We have a legal obligation to report all complaints to the Ministry of the Environment,” added Mr. Martin. Complaints can be called into the MMWF office at 705-368-0303, the NPI 24/7 Call Centre at 1-866-290-6992 or the MOE itself at its 24/7 hotline number 1-800-268-6060. “Our staff will investigate and respond to all complaints and concerns,” he stressed.
Mr. Martin stressed that ongoing operations will take great pains to mitigate the operation’s impact on local landowners, respecting their rights and their use of their own property.
As to the environmental impact on birds and animals, Mr. Martin showed a photograph of a herd of deer that have taken up residence among the turbines. “That might not make people happy at this time of the year (deer hunting season), but there you have it,” said Mr. Martin.
As to avian and bat kills, Mr. Martin noted that anecdotally, at least, those on site have not seen any mortalities evidenced by bodies in the vicinity of the turbines, but he pointed out that the ongoing environmental studies will have to prove the definitive answer to those questions.
Mr. Martin noted that while the wind farm produces somewhat more energy than is usually consumed through Manitoulin Island’s needs, the power is first utilized here before moving on the lines to southern Ontario. “It only makes sense that the power is used here where it is closest to its generation,” he said. Only when the power produced at the wind farm exceeds the needs of the Island is the power moving to other regions of the grid.
Questions from the committee members addressed during the meeting included asking for an overview of the Health Canada study of the long-term health impacts of wind farms. Mr. Mulville noted that the report’s preliminary conclusions was that there were no serious negative health issues.
Another concern centred on the impact on local snowmobile and ATV trails. Mr. Martin assured the committee that the trails would be in good stead this year. “I certainly hope so,” he added. “I already have my trail permit for this year and I intend to be using it.”
The wind farm manager noted that there should be no concerns about the decommissioning of the project once it is completed. He pointed out that 80 percent of the turbines and their stands are recyclable and that the company is required to do significant remedial work as part of their decommissioning plan from the REA. Those requirements include the removal of turbines and major equipment, removal of roads (some may be left in place at the request of property owners), removal of foundations, conductors and the restoration of the natural environment.
Committee member Tony Ferro made a closing comment from the CLC committee, pointing out that although he was originally skeptical of the project and commitments made by the project developer, the property owned by he and his partner has actually been improved by the wind farm’s construction.
Mr. Mulville explained that this fourth of the CLC meetings would likely be the last, as it meets the requirements of the company’s community consultations and the project has largely been lacking in local controversy.