With SaskPower looking to reach a 50 per cent renewable energy goal by 2030, it is possible you may soon be acquainted with the prairie landscape’s newest members: 178-metre high wind turbines. Just how intimately acquainted is being left to industry to decide.
TransAlta is proposing the Antelope Coulee Wind Energy Project — a 200-MW facility with 65 wind turbines, measuring approximately 178 metres (greater than 580 feet) from ground to blade tip, in the Webb area — as one of several bids being submitted to SaskPower’s May 2017 wind energy request for proposal.
To put these turbines to scale, Saskatchewan’s tallest high-rise, the Mosaic Potash Tower in Regina, measures in at 84.5 metres (277 feet) or less than half their height.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment’s September 2016 denial of the Algonquin Power and Utilities’ wind project in Chaplin suggests there are still regulatory issues to be worked out when placing wind turbines on the landscape. As adjacent land owners to the proposed Antelope Coulee Project in Webb, we have discovered these problems are not unique to wildlife, but also extend to a lack of legislation or guidelines for turbine proximity to occupied residences. With updated wildlife siting guidelines coming out since September 2016, it seems wildlife have been provided a regulatory framework not yet merited by farmers and taxpayers.
Only through a series of back and forth emails searching for answers from industry and government did it become apparent that no existing regulations protect occupied residences.
TransAlta initially stated their adherence to provincial regulations for setback minimums from residences; however, follow-up with the government taught us Saskatchewan has no such minimums, but that municipalities can create bylaws or zoning.
A second email from TransAlta stated new regulations would be coming out later in 2017.
Once again, the government was left to clarify the new regulations will be for postconstruction monitoring and there are no plans in the coming years to create setback minimums from residences and provincial noise guidelines also do not exist.
They stated noise guidelines from other jurisdictions would likely be used in lieu.
So, if you’re uncomfortable letting a large multi-national energy company self-regulate and choose which guideline best suites its project development needs, as a Saskatchewan resident, you have a couple of options left.
If you are fortunate enough to own the land around your home, negotiate wisely and understand there are no legal guidelines protecting you or your neighbours.
If you are an adjacent landowner, you can work with your municipal government or you can hope that wildlife regulations — such as setbacks from raptor nests — may offer you a reprieve.
In our case, we have failed to get any traction with our municipal government.
Influenced by the misinformation provided by TransAlta, the R.M. of Webb believes new provincial regulations are coming out this year and it is not worth the time or money to make a new bylaw. Discussions to the contrary have not been welcome.
In hopes of bringing light to the situation, an email was sent to Mr. Doug Steele, MLA Cypress Hills, on Feb. 20, 2017. The same email was forwarded to the Honourable Donna Harper at the Ministry of Government Relations. Neither has provided a response.
We plan to continue to pursue actions to protect our quality of life and have contacted several environmental groups that have agreed to complete wildlife surveys in the spring. We have also installed hawk nesting platforms on native prairie on our home quarter section in the hope they will earn us a one-kilometre set back. This seems to be our final hope. However, we fear we will be left to mourn the loss of our silent farmyard mornings free of turbine humming and flicker as well as declining numbers of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds that stage in our yard’s sloughs.
That is not all. Only a little research into the issue can add further concerns to the list of any homeowner: losses in property values as well as health and well-being concerns not addressed by current noise guideline metrics and levels.
So, why in a province with a very low rural population density has Saskatchewan not explicitly adopted conservative setback minimums and/or noise guidelines to guide wind power development and protect its rural residents? As the government pursues ambitious renewable energy targets, might it not be wise to have regulations put in place first? Or, even better, regulations informed by stakeholder engagement.
Catherine and Alicia Entem, Webb