Us­ing wind tur­bines to power al­most 7,000 homes

Get­ting re­new­able en­ergy in­spi­ra­tion from On­tario’s first wind com­mu­nity

Richmond Hill Post - - Homes - by Gideon For­man

Mi­randa Fuller looks over the 10 tur­bines on Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm in south­west­ern On­tario’s Oxford County, a lush re­gion of farm­land and small cities be­tween Lon­don and Kitch­ener. “They’re mag­i­cal!” she says.

The project, which started run­ning in late 2016 and now pro­duces enough elec­tric­ity to power some 6,700 lo­cal homes, is On­tario’ s first com­mu­nity-spon­sored wind farm. If the word “mag­i­cal” is not wholly ac­cu­rate — the tur­bines are no il­lu­sion, af­ter all — it does cap­ture some of Gunn’s Hill’s unique­ness. From many points of view, it’s an ex­traor­di­nary un­der­tak­ing.

Fuller, 25, grew up in Inger­soll, in Oxford County, and, af­ter study­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ethics at nearby Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity, be­came com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor at the Oxford Com­mu­nity En­ergy Co-oper­a­tive, one of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that gave Gunn’s Hill life. Other key part­ners were the Six Na­tions of the Grand River and project de­vel­oper Prowind Canada Inc.

She tells me the co-op of just 180 mem­bers raised a stag­ger­ing $9 mil­lion — much of it from in­vest­ments of $1,000 to $10,000 by in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing in the county. Ron Sef­tel, CEO of in­vestor Bull­frog Power says, “Lo­cal folks put in a ton of work” to make Gunn’s Hill pos­si­ble. To­day, al­most half its bonds and shares, 49 per cent, are in the hands of Oxford res­i­dents and busi­nesses. Com­mu­nity-based yet won­der­fully am­bi­tious, it is the largest re­new­able en­ergy co-op project to gain ap­proval in On­tario. It’s also Canada’s first wind ini­tia­tive to fea­ture both co-op and In­dige­nous own­er­ship.

Be­yond its size — it will sup­ply 15 per cent of Oxford’s 100 per cent re­new­able elec­tric­ity goal — it cre­ates a bond be­tween cit­i­zens and their power gen­er­a­tion.

“Too of­ten, peo­ple are cut off from their power sup­ply,” Fuller says. “It’s im­por­tant to see your en­ergy source. See­ing the tur­bines helps you con­nect with the en­ergy you’re us­ing.”

Liv­ing close to the wind­mills — and in some cases gain­ing em­ploy­ment from them — gives lo­cals a stake in the sys­tem and makes them more likely to sup­port pro-re­new­able pub­lic pol­icy. Gunn’s Hill also helps con­serve agri­cul­tural land.

A case in point is the Start fam­ily, who joined the coop partly be­cause they’ve run a farm for six gen­er­a­tions and want to pro­tect it from de­vel­op­ers.

The fam­ily’s con­nec­tion to their land is in­ti­mate. Among the acres of wheat and corn, there’s a newly planted but­ter­fly habi­tat be­tween so­lar ar­rays.

The wind tur­bines are un­der­writ­ten by 20-year con­tracts: putting them on the Starts’ prop­erty means it can’t be paved for at least two decades.

“We’re very close to an ur­ban cen­tre that will feel de­vel­op­ment pres­sure,” says David Start, re­fer­ring to the grow­ing City of Wood­stock. “We’re at the junc­tion of [high­ways] 403 and 401, two main cor­ri­dors. And I be­lieve the tur­bines will ac­tu­ally help pro­tect this land and our wood­lot for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, for lo­cal food pro­duc­tion.”

The project wasn’t with­out ob­sta­cles. Dur­ing its de­vel­op­ment, Fuller re­calls, “Some lo­cals didn’t sup­port it. But since it was built, we’re not see­ing much push back.”

One piece of in­for­ma­tion that di­min­ishes op­po­si­tion is the fact that wind tur­bines of­fer res­i­dents in­come.

“Lo­cal peo­ple’s in­vest­ment in wind does ease con­tention,” Fuller says.

Fuller, now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the co-op, doesn’t hes­i­tate to of­fer ad­vice to other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties con­tem­plat­ing lo­cal power projects: “Be pre­pared to be sur­prised by the com­mu­nity’s pas­sion for re­new­ables.”

A look at the wind tur­bines and so­lar panels in Oxford County

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