John Barros is Project Development Manager for Mainstream Renewable Power which has developed wind and solar projects across Europe, South America, the US and Canada. Currently the company has wind projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan and five 10 MW solar projects under Ontario’s FIT program. This week he spoke to us about how Mainstream approaches community engagement and his ideas on how to insulate the industry from political uncertainty.
Canadian Clean: Tell us about your approach to project development?
John Barros: Our niche is with bigger projects where we can reach economies of scale. However, we still try as much as possible to include the community. It is essential to take a multi-disciplinary approach to development and consider all aspects of the project. Just look at the blowback we have seen with wind development because of the lack of support from communities.
When we look at doing a 50 MW wind farm, we cover a few thousand acres of land options and inevitably engage a thousand people in the development process. Even though a lot less people will be directly involved, but you will inevitably meet with resistance so you have to break that mold by getting the whole community engaged rather than just those in the immediate area surrounding your turbines.
Rural communities are very tight knit and we forget to put on our rural hat and look at the world through their lens. Their whole system of support can be undermined by the presence of wind farms.
CC: Tell us about how this approach has worked in Ontario?
JB: In South Stormont and western Ontario, we are going in and talking to the municipality and the local council and conservation authority to make our case for a project be it wind or solar. We are letting them know that we will be using local suppliers and contractors and finding out where the community would like the project to be.
It is important for us developers to realize that whatever we have been doing in Ontario is not working and we need a radical paradigm shift where people feel they have power.
CC: What are your hopes for the opening of the large FIT window in Ontario?
JB: I expect it to open in Q2 or Q3 but of course it depends on the political landscape. That is why it is imperative that we generate grassroots support for wind and solar. Put turbines where they provide the least social impact and the yields are highest and allow people in cities to take a stake in rural solar farms. That would certainly help bridge the urban/rural divide in Ontario.
John Barros will be discussing how he worked alongside the Mayor of South Stormont and other local authorities on these solar projects at the upcoming Ontario Feed-In Tariff Forum (April 2-4, Toronto).
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