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  • Darrell Cole, Saltwire

Cumberland County restricting, not banning wind power in Wentworth, N.S.

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

NOTE: Protect Wentworth Valley (PWV) was informed that the proposed 3.5 km restricted overlay would be reduced to 3.2 km at second reading. Protect Wentworth Valley has not had an opportunity to fully evaluate the impact of this reduction as it relates to the group’s overall goals to protect the areas' unique ecology and biodiversity and is exploring this issue now. Updates to follow.

WENTWORTH, N.S. — Cumberland County is going to restrict the development of large wind turbines in the Wentworth Valley, but has opted not to ban them altogether.

Cumberland municipal council’s proposed changes to its land-use bylaws regarding wind turbines passed second reading during its June session on Wednesday. But instead of a 3.5-kilometre ban on wind turbines on both sides of Highway 4 in the valley, council has opted to restrict development to 3.2 kilometres on each side.

“I look at where we were a year ago, the size of these turbines, their power and how the community views them, we knew we had to change the rules to protect the community and I believe this is a good compromise,” Mayor Murray Scott said following the meeting. “We are a county that supports renewable energy and that includes wind turbines in the right places.”

Scott said there has always been a concern about the decommissioning of wind turbines once they reach the end of their lifecycle.

“There will be a surety in place so that when they are no longer usable, there’ll be the ability to take them down,” Scott said. “We’ve also addressed their distance from homes by extending the setbacks.

“We’ve been at this for months and I think we’ve reached a point where we’re at a compromise that’s respectful of landowners and residents and, at the end of the day, these companies, who want to put turbines in the county, will have to come to us. There’ll be a chance to question them on it and make sure they follow the rules.”

Under the changes, the setback between turbines and dwellings is being increased from 600 metres to 1,000 metres (or a kilometre).

There is also a mandate for minimum public engagement requirements and decommissioning bonds for new turbines.

Last week, during a public hearing, county councillors were told their proposed restricted overlay of 3.5 kilometres from each side of Highway 4 through the valley would make a planned wind farm on Higgins Mountain less viable.

At issue, is a plan by developers to place a 100-megawatt wind farm on Higgins Mountain. The county placed a six-month moratorium on wind projects back in January while it updated its land-use bylaws.

The project has been opposed by the citizens’ group Protect Wentworth Valley, which said the turbines would impact the area’s ecosystem as well as the population of the endangered mainland moose.

Earlier this week, Dan Eaton, director of project development for Elemental Energy on behalf of Higgins Mountain Wind Farm Limited Partnership, wrote the county proposing a change to the overlay that allows them to proceed while responding to resident concerns.

“Community support and social licence are incredibly important to our partnership. Our approach has all along been to find common ground with the community and today we are requesting that council accept a compromise to the restricted overlay developed as part of the Cumberland County wind turbine bylaw review,” Eaton said in a letter to county CAO Greg Herrett.

Eaton said during the public hearing that the Higgins Mountain partnership is aware of community concerns and has already self-imposed a 2.5-kilometre buffer from Highway 4. It has completed an analysis of the 3.5-kilometre buffer and suggested the 3.2-kilometre buffer instead.

“While there are not insignificant financial impacts of extending the buffer from 2.5 kilometres to 3.2 kilometres, we are confident that at this distance the project maintains its feasibility while ensuring that the important visual aesthetics of the Wentworth Valley, prioritized by the community, are maintained,” Eaton said in his letter. “Higgins Mountain Wind Farm Limited Partnership also re-iterates its extended commitment to not placing turbines within the zone of visual impact restriction as presented on Dec. 4, 2021 at our second open house.”

Paul Pynn, representing the wind project, said Thursday the partnership is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the process.

“Higgins Wind has always been committed to developing our project in a responsible manner that respects the uniqueness of the Wentworth Valley and the interests of the community,” Pynn said in an emailed statement. “With the adjustment to the restricted overlay, we anticipate that the project is able to meet or exceed all requirements in the amended Cumberland County Wind Turbine Bylaw and will minimize potential effects to the visual aesthetics of the Wentworth Valley.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Mi’kmaq Nations, Municipality of Cumberland, Municipality of Colchester as well as residents and community stakeholders to advance the project through a provincial environmental assessment and municipal permitting processes allowing Higgins Wind to build a project that will help Nova Scotia Power deliver clean, reliable and affordable energy while providing meaningful economic benefits to the communities within which we work.

Coun. Kathy Redmond, who represents the Wentworth area on council and opposed the initial project plan, said she can live with the compromise.

“I’m glad there is protection for the Wentworth Valley,” Redmond said. “Even though it’s dropping down to 3.2, that’s only 300 metres in difference. I think with what we have in place now, we have a very good bylaw.”

Redmond said she still questions whether the company will be able to "hide" the turbines and not disturb the view of the valley, but she supports the compromise.

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