The owners of the proposed 12-turbine Otter Creek Wind Farm north of Wallaceburg say they will not be using foundations that require pile driving, and will instead be using a spreadfoot system that requires a few metres of foundation depth.
Boralex said the decision was made to appease members of the community who have expressed concern over pile driving.
Adam Rosso, director of project development for the Otter Creek Wind Farm project, said after doing research and analysis on other options, Boralex decided not to use piles in any of the project’s installations. He said the push to look at an alternative to pile driving was mostly internal.
“We challenged our civil engineering team to come up with a design that took some time,” he said. “It took tremendous amount of innovation and work and it paid off. We're very happy with the work we've been able to complete with our engineering companies.”
Although Boralex officials said they believe that deep pile foundations don’t impact local water wells, the switch to a spreadfoot system was made because they didn’t want to upset members of the community.
“We know unequivocally that the science and engineering support the pile foundation, but at the end of the day we believe that working together is vital for the success of any project and that includes taking social concerns into consideration, and that's why we've done it,” Rosso said.
The new foundation design is common and used in a variety of civil engineering applications, Rosso added.
Opponents of pile driving point to the nearby North Kent wind farm where they say the development and installation of wind turbines – with foundations that reach to the bedrock – have led to the contamination of several water wells during and after construction.
To reflect the foundation change, Boralex has updated and resubmitted its Renewable Energy Application (REA) submission to the Ontario government.
Rosso said he hopes grassroots environmental organizations such as Water Wells First and Wallaceburg and Area Wind Concerns will view the change as good news, as there will be no piles or any construction near bedrock.
But Kevin Jakubec, spokesperson for Water Wells First, said he still sees problems ahead. He said a risk remains because of the turbines’ vibrations, and points to work done by Dr. Mark-Paul Buckingham of Scotland, a specialist in vibration reduction.
“In his experience, either type of foundation can still cause a problem during the operation phase,” Jakubec said.
Jakubec said the Otter Creek project should be postponed, as there is a pending health hazard investigation that must first be completed by the province.
“The government should put a priority on our health and well-being,” Jakubec said. “We need that done because we need to understand what is going to be a successful remediation method, and we don't have that, we don't have that safety net.”
The issue was highlighted during the recent provincial election campaign, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford saying if elected he would quash the Otter Creek Wind Farm project and not allow it to move ahead.
Ford also pledged to undertake a health hazard investigation into local wind farms and their issues with neighbouring water wells.
The wind turbines in the Otter Creek wind project are expected to be the tallest in Canada.
Rosso said changes to the foundation construction won't impact the size of the turbines.
Otter Creek officials said they anticipate most of the Otter Creek wind turbine construction to begin in spring 2019.