This is a Green Energy Doors Open feature story. To learn more, visit greenenergydoorsopen.ca
One year ago this October, Ernestown Wind Park, located on the shore of Lake Ontario in Loyalist Township, began generating clean, renewable power for the province. The story of this project, however, is over a decade in the making, and began as the dream of developer Anthony Zwig.
In the early 2000s, William Henderson, a prominent local judge, approached Anthony with the idea of building a hospital as his lasting legacy for the community, but the two men quickly determined that a hospital wasn’t needed. The judge suggested they build a wind farm instead. At the time, Anthony didn’t know much about renewables, but as a sailor, he knew the area had a lot of wind. He and his team began testing the wind quality of the site in 2004, and then they waited (and waited) for provincial policy to catch up with their vision. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Green Energy & Economy Act and the accompanying Feed-in-Tariff program in 2009 that the project became viable.
In the years leading up to the development of the wind park, the local community and Ontarians in general were a bit wary of wind energy – it was a big unknown. Fortunately, the nearby Wolfe Island Wind Farm was being developed just prior to Ernestown, paving the way for a small, low impact project to be realized.
There are a few things that make the Ernestown Wind Park special. First, it is a small project, 5 turbines with a capacity of 2MW each. This was intentional, as the Ernestown team had seen the success of small, community-scale wind projects in Europe and decided to use this as a model for their development.
The wind park’s siting also makes great use of land. Three turbines are located on a farmer’s field with marginal soil quality, which is important considering the current debate about the use of prime agricultural land for renewable energy development. The other two turbines are sited on quarry lands, and will give new life to the area after the quarry is no longer operational.
The team behind the Ernestown Wind Park has gone above and beyond to ensure the community is involved. They have repeatedly reached out to neighbours, engaging them at kitchen table meetings, local events and providing opportunities for residents to engage directly with the decision makers in the company. In fact, their efforts were recognized in 2012 at the SWITCH Rural Initiatives Awards, which lauded their “positive and proactive approach to community engagement at a time when many developers are at odds with the communities asked to host their projects.”
For Green Energy Doors Open 2015, the Ernestown Wind Park team is thinking beyond renewables for the community – they will be hosting their second charity turbine climb to raise much-needed funds for local educational and after-school programs. Last year over $5400 was raised for student scholarships, and this year, the team is offering free learning toolkits on energy literacy for kids grades 3-6, developed in accordance with the Ontario curriculum.
The team is also inviting Green Energy Doors Open attendees to help plant milkweed and flowers in the hopes of creating a monarch butterfly sanctuary. Milkweed is essential for monarch butterfly survival, but is often seen as a weed and sprayed, which in recent years has been devastating to monarch populations. This effort was inspired by friends Claudette Juneau and David Hahn. Claudette, a nurse, has been planting milkweed in her backyard and studying monarchs for over 30 years, before the idea became mainstream. David, a farmer and former teacher, suggested that land surrounding renewable energy facilities could be used as “environmental sanctuaries.” As Nhung Nguyen, VP of Development for the Wind Park explains, “the northern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are very important for monarch migration, which is exactly where our project is located.”
Header image source: Ernestown Wind Park Inc.