The 60 MW McLean’s Mountain wind farm, located on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, is currently under construction, with completion anticipated early next year. The wind farm is jointly owned by Northland Power and six First Nation tribes, and the project has a contract with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) under its feed-in tariff (FIT) program.
McLean’s Mountain represents Northland Power’s fourth wind farm in Canada and its first in Ontario. In many respects, the project is a case study of the proper way to engage and update the community, particularly in Ontario, where wind farm opposition is prevalent.
As the result of an agreement signed in 2011, Northland jointly owns the wind farm with Mnidoo Mnising Power, a company formed by the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM). The UCCMM represents six First Nations, including White Fish River, Sheguiandah, M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Zhiibaahaasing and Sheshegwaning.
Northland is economically rewarded for partnering with the First Nations. It receives a C$0.015/kWh price adder through its FIT contract with the OPA. However, the partnership is also the right thing to do, according to John Brace, Northland Power’s president and CEO.
“First Nations have long been left out,” he explains, adding that historically, First Nations have not had the resources to avail themselves of economic development opportunities in Ontario, with wind development serving as the latest example.
“Our shared ownership with Northland Power is an important model of how First Nations can work closely with the private sector and government on something that both benefits our people and supports the province of Ontario’s leadership in renewable energy,” said UCCMM Tribal Chair Chief Shining Turtle in a statement when the partnership was announced. The collaboration with Northland Power includes future renewable energy projects on the UCCMM First Nations’ traditional territory.
However, if not for Northland’s grassroots efforts that helped establish trust and kept the public informed, the McLean’s Mountain wind project might never have gotten off the ground.
As is the case to this day, Northland regularly meets with all the stakeholders to keep them apprised of project milestones. Such meeting frequency has been key to establishing and building trust, explains Rick Martin, McLean’s Mountain wind farm manager, who has been working on the project since 2003.
“Bringing renewable energy to Manitoulin Island is personal. I want to see it done well and done with full community engagement,” he explains. “I have worked with landowners and sat with them at the kitchen table and listened to their concerns.”
Leaving nothing to chance, Northland went as far as to provide a running commentary in the local newspaper.
“We captured all of the information in a weekly newspaper article called the ‘Manitoulin Wind News,’” Martin says. “We talked about everything in that column: the strength of the rock, wind data collection, the project’s effect on electricity. It was really an in-depth public education.”
Nonetheless, as is common in Ontario, the wind farm quickly became a target as opponents attempted to derail the project with misinformation. Acting on advice from one of the First Nation chiefs, Martin instructed Northland’s team to approach public relations carefully but deliberately.
“Throughout the project, we were not going to react to people intent on putting out a campaign,” Martin explains. “Let’s not fan the fire. If there was going to be reaction from our side, it was going to be based on a serious misunderstanding.”
As of mid-September, more than 80% of the foundations had been poured, and turbine delivery was well under way, explains Paul Kaminski, project manager. McLean’s Mountain is powered by 24 GE wind turbines, each rated at 2.85 MW. However, to comply with the noise restrictions and the OPA contract requirements, each turbine output will be adjusted. The wind farm will feature 21 turbines rated at 2.49 MW, two turbines rated at 2.66 MW and one turbine rated at 2.38 MW.
The project’s location added to its degree of difficulty. For starters, the wind farm is located on an island, a resort community.
“It’s a large rock of an island,” explains Chris Hanson, vice president of wind energy at H.B. White Construction, a subsidiary of Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives and also the project’s balance-of-plant contractor. Taken together, the terrain and geology made it “among the most difficult projects I’ve ever worked.”
Installing the collection cable in rock required special installation procedures to meet the overall line loss requirements, Hanson explains. “When you have rock, it takes a lot more effort to get the grounding where it needs to be to meet utility requirements.”
Also adding to the project’s degree of difficulty was the installation of a submarine cable running 1,100 meters along the lake floor, spanning the distance between Manitoulin Island and Goat Island. The cable is placed in a trench in the vicinity of both shorelines and laid on the bottom of the North Channel at the higher water depths.
“The submarine cable is not a widely used method in the North American market,” Hanson notes.
In addition to economic benefits brought on by joint ownership, many First Nations tradesmen were employed during wind farm construction. For Hanson, the opportunity provided the chance to leverage the contractor’s long-standing relationships with local operators, iron workers, laborers and welders. “We’ve been active in the Ontario market since 2005,” Hanson says. “This project provided an opportunity for us to reach out to the trades.”
Despite the challenges, CEO Brace anticipates further development in the province. The company is currently advancing a second wind project located in Grand Bend, Ontario, also with a 50/50 First Nations partnership.
“We have great plans for Ontario,” he says, adding that the company’s experience on Manitoulin Island “does not diminish our ardor and desire.”
And as the project nears its completion, Northland’s Martin looks back with a sense of accomplishment.
“Was it tiring? Yes. Was it exhausting? Absolutely.” However, Martin cautions, “Without this level of communication, a project cannot succeed or be welcomed.” w
Project Profile: McLean’s Mountain
Northland Project Provides Community-Engagement Lesson
By Mark Del Franco
The story behind Northland Power’s 60 MW McLean’s Mountain wind farm is a prime example of how to educate project stakeholders and the public.
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