A consortium of cooperatives developing wind projects in Québecé has formed a new association that expects to participate in the province’s call for tender.
The new group hopes to reduce the tension between traditional developers of what critics call “mega” wind farms and community development activists in the lower Saint Lawrence River region.
Led by staff at the University of Québec at Rimouski, including wind pioneer Jean-Louis Chaumel, the Coopératives Regroupées en Energie Renouvelable du Québec (CRERQ) was announced at a press conference in Rimouski, Québec on 12 December 2006.
Formation of the consortium follows a year of intensive organizing by local mayors, wind energy advocates, wind cooperatives, regional economic development authorities, and the University of Québec at Rimouski.
The province has called for bids of 2,000 MW in new wind construction. Much of Québec’s resulting wind rush is taking place on the windy Gaspé peninsula, where Rimouski is located.
Currently, about ten projects that range in size from 1 to 50 MW are participating in CRERQ. By pooling their resources the association plans to submit a bid in Hydro Québec’s call for tender this May. Participants include community groups, villages, and First Nations (the indigenous population of Canada).
For the consortium, the social and environmental acceptability of proposed wind projects is fundamental. Organizers say they are trying to find a cooperative solution to the debate raging in the region about how to maximize the local benefits of wind development. Commercial development that leaves only 1% to 2% of the profits for the local community in the form of land rents is not sufficient to justify giving up their resource, say organizers.
One of CRERQ’s founders, Gaëtan Ruest, has become an outspoken critic of commercial wind development in the region. Ruest, mayor of the village of Amqui, charges that developers are selling the region’s wind resource too cheaply and leaving “only crumbs” for residents, and with most jobs going to Montreal. He would like to see UQAR take charge of wind development in the region on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River.
Ruest also was also an organizer of the Le Defi Des Eoliennes (the Wind Energy Challenge), which took place on 10 October 2006 in Rimouski, where he called on the Québec government to adopt a Standard Offer Program like that in neighboring Ontario.
CRERQ doesn’t anticipate any problems in raising the investment capital needed to build the projects, if they win contracts with Hydro Québec.
Organizers argue that Québec has a long tradition of cooperative business development. One of Québec’s largest banks, the Caisse Populaire Desjardins, is a cooperative federation, they note.
According to organizers, the approach the consortium expects to take toward their neighbors, investors, and potential commercial partners is reflected in the group’s charter.
- Residents and communities have first rights to the wind energy on their lands.
- Farmers, foresters, and landowners are the basis of all wind energy development. They must not only obtain just and equitable benefits from development, but also be able to use their own wind resource.
- Sharing the landscape with wind development implies sharing of revenues from its development as well. All wind projects must provide significant advantages to those who live near the wind turbines and who will be affected by them.
- Because they are based on equitable benefits and social acceptability, only projects that meet the following criteria will be supported by CRERQ.
- At least 50% of the project must be controlled by the communities affected.
- Cooperatives are preferred because they promote transparency and ensure a long-term relationship between the concerned parties.
- Investors have a social responsibility because they use a public resource, the wind. CRERQ welcomes those who want to participate in regional economic development in a spirit of solidarity and not one of division, and who encourage communities to take the development of their destiny into their own hands.
- Sharing of information is the basis for healthy cooperation between various parties. There must be put in place a systematic program for the sharing of information, to ensure democratic participation.
- Development of local expertise, jobs, and businesses is a requirement from the very beginning of a project.
Formation of the consortium follows the Union of Municipalities of Québec- 1 December 2006 call for the provincial government to launch a Standard Offer program similar to that in Ontario that is open to municipal participation.