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May-June 2009

Cape Breton conservationists at odds with wind power plan

Chris BenjaminWebsite

Wind turbines generating power at a 400 MW wind farm in Colorado. Conservationists are concerned about the impact of such developments on fragile ecosystems. Photo by UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Wind turbines generating power at a 400 MW wind farm in Colorado. Conservationists are concerned about the impact of such developments on fragile ecosystems. Photo by UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Nuclear power has always been controversial, but even green power sources like wind and hydro meet resistance from locals.

When Nova Scotia entrepreneur Luciano Lisi unveiled a plan to blow 250 megawatts of wind-power into his province’s coal-based grid, he didn’t expect it to be this controversial. But his proposed wind-hydro hybrid project, involving 44 wind turbines (more than doubling the current number in the province), and a hydroelectric station near Lake Uist, Cape Breton, has raised the ire of land conservationists.

Their problem is with the hydro component, which allows for the storage of wind-power during off-peak hours. “It solves the important problem of wind variability,” Lisi says. Storing wind power makes the energy supplied more reliable, a major plus for green energy. Or it would be green—if the windmills weren’t sited in the middle of a thousand-hectare wetland.

For that reason, one of the province’s leading environmental groups, the Ecology Action Centre, offers only lukewarm support. “We are in favour of the proposed wind energy portion of the project,” an EAC statement says. The group is concerned that the hydro portion as originally proposed would destroy the wetland, leach methyl mercury into the lake (possibly poisoning drinking water), create “probable disastrous effects for the aquatic ecosystem,” and punch access roads through fragile wilderness.

The status of the Crown land in question is under negotiation with the Mi’kmaq First Nation. Every Mi’kmaq band in the province opposes the project, especially the nearby Eskasoni Reserve. Elder Albert Marshall, an award-winning environmentalist, has led the charge. “The Mi’kmaq are not anti development, but this project is nowhere near green,” Marshall says. He says First Nations communities need to be consulted on a development this big. “Our project will have no effect on the lake, that’s just idiots talking,” says Lisi, who hopes the project will achieve North America’s EcoLogo certification. “We will meet all regulations and requirements we are obliged to meet.”

But Marshall says the Mi’kmaq will protect the land. “This area has been used by Mi’kmaq for hunting, trapping, gathering, and medicines for a very long time,” he says.

Lisi will file his environmental impact assessment with the provincial and federal governments by mid-2009, and hopes to break ground late 2009 or early 2010. Marshall says litigation is a last-resort option “if they do not at least attempt to address our issues.”

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