A description of the windmills proposed for Halkirk 2 wind project. (Local Journalism Initiative photo)

Capital Power open house reveals turbine numbers cut down to 35 near Halkirk, Alberta

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review

An open house offered by a wind power company became a bit tense June 8 when a group of landowners and neighbours of the proposed project appeared and aired a number of grievances, including accusing Capital Power, the applicant, of lying to them.

The meeting, held at the Halkirk Community Hall, was held to present updates and changes to the Halkirk 2 Wind Project proposed near the village. Readers should note other, separate, projects are underway in Paintearth County and the Special Areas and are unrelated to Halkirk 2.

According to displays presented at the open house, noise modelling for Halkirk 2 was now being based on a Vestas v150 4.3 mw wind turbine and further stating the sound equivalent would be around 40 decibels (db) which is between a library and a busy office in noise level.

The artwork presented also stated noise levels permissible for wind turbines must be below 50 db.

The type of turbine has also been altered, according to information at the open house; illustration showed a turbine bigger than the 2018 proposal. Capital Power stated their initial proposal was for v110 turbines, while v90 are the ones motorists have already seen in the existing Halkirk 1 project.

However, Capital Power also noted the number of proposed turbines has been substantially cut back, originally at 74 and now at a maximum 35 turbines.

The footprint of the project had also been reduced, according to a map presented at the open house. The poster noted the revised proposal now includes a development over 64 acres, which is a 43 per cent reduction from the original proposal according to Capital Power.

In the first two hours of the open house a number of local residents appeared at the event to pick up maps and ask questions of Capital Power representatives, and the event was mostly quiet and subdued.

However, in the final hour of the open house about a dozen landowners who are in or near the proposed Halkirk 2 project arrived and an impromptu question and answer session began.

Some of the landowners were obviously skeptical and somewhat angry while others in this group were concerned about the project for a number of reasons.

Some of the reasons voiced included noise from the turbines, with landowners noting the continuous hum of the motors can be quite annoying.

Another major complaint noted by several of the landowners was “shadow flicker,” which occurs in a wind power project when the turbines operate and, while moving, cast blade shadows down on the ground and onto whatever buildings may be there.

A poster at the open house noted shadow flicker is not regulated by the provincial government; however, Capital Power did note on posters at the open house an assessment did confirm shadow flicker’s potential in Halkirk 2, and some landowners suggested a third party investigate this problem to produce another report.

Another concern voiced by several of the landowners was the desire for more active consultation with the residents affected by this project, with one suggestion of Capital Power keeping in face-to-face contact with landowners in case issues arise.

At this point Capital Power Senior Advisor, Indigenous and Stakeholder Engagement, Michael Sheehan stated that Capital Power is a responsible operator and a responsible operator will investigate complaints and conduct mitigation if needed.

Halkirk 1 Site Manager Mark Jackson stated that even if he gets complaints from non-participating landowners the company wants to know if someone has a complaint so an effort can be made the rectify the issue.

He cited an example of a landowner who had a shadow flicker concern but never told Capital Power about it and when Jackson finally found out about it, the issue turned out to be easy to address. He also stated it’s possible to pause a turbine while a problem is being investigated.

Jackson pointed out the newer turbines will have better night lights than the ones in Halkirk 1, but after the public asked if the old ones are being replaced Jackson noted the old turbines aren’t compatible with the new lights.

Some of the landowners stated they had “trust issues” with Capital Power and stated they had a hard time believing anything they were being told as they felt Capital Power had lied to them in the past.

Capital Power representatives then noted that the company does have to monitor the project after it’s completed to show that it is operating the way it’s supposed to be operated.

When asked how turbine sites were chosen, company representatives stated sites were chosen based on landowners who agreed to host turbines. Some landowners asked if the entire project could be moved west onto former mine lands that are unoccupied, but Capital Power representatives stated some restrictions to placing turbines on reclaimed land may apply.

More than one landowner also stated they were unhappy with a land agent utilized by Capital Power for the Halkirk 2 process.

One landowner also described the plan to place turbines there would in effect “…sterilize our land.”

Members of the public stated they were worried no one was listening to their concerns and that their feedback wasn’t being acted upon.

Sheehan responded that Capital Power’s reduction in the number of turbines shows the company is listening to landowner feedback.

In a follow-up interview June 9 with Gerard and Donna Fetaz, landowners opposed to Halkirk 2, the couple provided a statement they intended to send to Capital Power.

The Fetaz’ were asked to explain the accusations that Capital Power has lied to landowners. In part it reads, “Attached is the Transcript from the AUC hearing 22563 where Rob Wydareny (according to LinkedIn he’s director, business development Canada, Capital Power) under oath, stated the resident’s participation rate was 49 per cent and then later stated ‘overall people living in the area’ ‘right around that 70 per cent level.’ Capital Power presented all of the changes that have been made six years after the requests were made by the residents – resident support is now far below 49 per cent.”

In a follow-up interview June 10, Sheehan stated Capital Power intends to build the best project with the least impact on residents.

Sheehan also responded to the accusations of lying: “We have not intentionally misled the community and apologize for any confusion or ill will caused. Our intent and goal is to build the best project with the least amount of impact, which will bring strong community benefits (taxes, jobs, local supply chain, etc.) to Paintearth county.

“We meaningfully consider residents and community feedback and have made several adjustments to transform the original project layout to address concerns raised by the community – including removing and moving the locations of some wind turbines, increasing setbacks from wind turbines and a commitment to install an aircraft detection lighting system to mitigate the impact of the required lighting on the community.”

He clarified that there is no specific model of turbine proposed yet, but that it was the largest of the three in the illustration presented at the open house. No model has been chosen yet, he noted, because technology advances so quickly and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) is aware of this.

He also attributed the march of progress as the reason for fewer turbines: more efficient models mean the 150 mw target can be reached with 35 turbines. Sheehan stated Capital Power feels it has made significant changes to the proposal in order to address community concerns.

Sheehan added that the next step will be to compile community concerns and questions and review them with the team. He noted the company will be looking to submit the Halkirk 2 project application this year.

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