A local wind-energy initiative

Stratford Beacon-Herald Editorial - April 28, 2008

What do you do when confronted with a roadblock? Look for ways to get around it, of course.

That's what a local wind-energy initiative is doing in the face of barriers put up by Ontario Power Authority and Hydro One.

Fed up with more than two years of delays, Countryside Energy Co-operative and Perth East council have decided to explore the possibility of selling energy generated by a proposed 10-megawatt wind farm directly to consumers rather than to the province.

Dreaming of harnessing the area's wind for green energy, Countryside announced in August 2005 it was hoping to build a 10-megawatt station that would be enough to supply about 3,300 average Ontario homes with electricity. Wind tests had produced promising results.

It would be a member-owned co-operative and offer public shares. Some area farmers would benefit by leasing land to the co-operative for the towers.

It was an exciting prospect.

In March 2006, the group was encouraged when the province announced how it would pay small producers of electricity from green sources. The 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for wind energy was enough to make Countryside confident its project could go ahead.

By then, the co-op was looking to build its first wind farm near Bervie in Bruce County. A farmer there had a year's worth of test results indicating the site could support a 10-megawatt wind farm. There was talk of the Bervie site possibly coming into operation in late 2007.

Since then, however, it's been one step forward and two steps back for Countryside.

The Ontario Power Authority said there wasn't enough capacity in the southwestern Ontario electricity grid to allow projects like Countryside's to feed more power into it. Then, in March 2007, there was some encouraging news. The province announced a new high-voltage power line would be built between the Bruce nuclear plant and Milton. It looked like the new $600-million line would allow renewable energy projects to proceed.

That was a year ago. Last month, Hydro One revoked the connection agreement it had granted Countryside last August, saying there's now insufficient capacity at the Bervie site.

It's hardly surprising that Countryside is feeling frustrated.

So now the co-operative, with the backing of Perth East council, is undertaking a $30,000 feasibility study into putting up a Milverton-area wind farm instead and selling the electricity directly to heavy users, such as the Perth East Recreation Complex and wastewater treatment facility, as well as industry. Perth East contributed $18,000 to the study.

A study has already shown that wind power is viable in the area. To carry it to customers, Countryside would need to install hydro lines to transmit the power, a potentially costly undertaking.

So now the co-operative will gauge interest from potential customers and make a detailed analysis of their usage.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the delays, the co-operative has signed up 31 members since the orange zone was announced in November 2006.

It's a demonstration, once again, that people are not just eager to embrace green energy but are clearly ready to move forward with it at a pace faster than politicians anticipated.

With its stated commitment to renewable energy, the Ontario government should be doing all it can to help make Countryside's contribution to a sustainable energy future, and others like it, become reality.

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