by SUSAN MANN with files from BETTER FARMING STAFF
After months of delay, construction of a controversial solar energy project in the St. Eugene area of eastern Ontario began earlier this week with most of the work slated to be completed by September, 2011.
Chris Young, managing director of Enfinity Canada, says workers are at the 300-acre site laying out where the access ways are to be located. “We’re doing landscaping and putting up fences before the snow flies.” But the bulk of the construction won’t be done until spring.
The farm is owned by Enfinity Canada, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Enfinity. The completed project will have about 140,000 solar panels and generate 30 megawatts of solar power. Enfinity bought the project’s developer, Solaris Energy Partners Inc., in September, 2009.
The plan is to do as much work as possible before the snow hits, then stop during the winter and continue in the spring. Young says there are 20 workers on the site now and about 200 trades’ people “will be going all through next year.”
Construction of the project was to begin in March and it would have been completed by now, Young says. But there were a “number of issues that were brought up by some opponents to the project that had to be settled in the courts.” Opposition to the project has cost the company about $100,000 in legal fees.
Young says the opponents attempted to have the project shut down.
The opponents had the option of posting security in the event they lost and damages were awarded or the court case would have been allowed to proceed. “They never posted the security (bond),” he says, noting the deadline for posting the security was Oct. 16. Young says he couldn’t recall the amount of the security. But it would have been a monetary amount to cover Enfinity’s legal costs in the event the opponent’s lost.
Opposition to the proposal to locate a solar farm on 300 acres in the Township of East Hawkesbury, southeast of Ottawa, came from provincial farm groups, which objected to using prime farm land for solar farms, and local residents. The site was vandalized in the fall of 2009. Vandals caused $25,000 worth of damage.
Hawkesbury Ontario Provincial Police Const. Pierre Dubois says there weren’t any charges laid in the investigation because of a lack of evidence. The matter was closed on March 18, 2010.
Police officers canvassed the area and conducted interviews but there wasn’t a positive identification of the suspect or suspects, he says.
Dubois says provincial police stepped up patrols after the vandalism occurred. Now the officers still patrol the area like every other place but there aren’t increased patrols in that area any more. There haven’t been any new cases or incidents since the original vandalism.
Young says he didn’t want to comment on the vandalism.
Young says he doesn’t think opposition to the project from local residents has anything to do with them being against solar energy. “This was not about solar because it has been proven that it is safe. It is about people wanting land for their own purposes.”
It’s also “about some people not respecting the rights of legitimate owners of land,” Young notes.
To prevent possible future vandalism, Young says there’s a large fence surrounding the farm, which is part of the site plan requirement. “On top of that we have electronic surveillance.”
Enfinity staff will also be vigilant as the project is constructed and “as we are on site.”
The Ontario Municipal Board struck down East Hawkesbury council’s suspension of the project in May, 2009. The board then approved the developer’s zoning request amendment, site plan application and land severance plan in June, 2009. BF