People from across the Madawaska and Bonnechere Valley regions packed a public meeting at the Killaloe Lions Hall last Wednesday night to hear the case against proposals for a series of wind power turbines planned for this corner of Renfrew County.
The public meeting, called by opponents of the power-generation projects proposed by four different companies, was told of plans for a series of wind-power generation facilities across this end of Renfrew County. Critics focused on five concerns:
• The impact of wind farms on the Valley’s rural environment;
• Alleged harmful health effects to humans from wind turbines;
• A lack of regulations concerning the gigantic wind turbines, which are a new phenomenon in this area.
• The financial viability of wind farm proposals now before various municipal councils in an area stretching from Bonnechere Valley in the east, south to Denbigh and west to the Madawaska Valley and the Whitney/Madawaska area, and;
• The minimal financial benefits to Renfrew County residents from wind farms.
It was a largely one-sided event, with all speakers opposed to the wind project proposals as they currently stand. The companies proposing the projects were not represented at the meeting, although the wind-power umbrella group the Canadian Wind Energy Association was outside the hall before the meeting handing out information booklets that included a DVD on the issue.
Council members from Madawaska Valley and Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards attended the meeting, as did Councillors Joe Florent and Bob Ogilvie from South Algonquin Council.
Several other area municipal councils were also represented in the audience. Renfrew Nipissing Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski also attended.
Wilno’s Pauline Sedgeman and her husband Lou Eyamie, whose farm is adjacent to a six-turbine project proposed by SkyPower Corp., moderated the meeting.
Sedgeman says the meeting was organized by a small group of citizens “who are very concerned about what is happening to our communities.” She said residents have not been satisfied by information on the proposed Wilno Wind Park that was provided by SkyPower in May.
“We thought it is important that every person living in the Valley be aware of the magnitude of the wind operations proposed to be constructed across the Valley.”
By any measure, large-scale wind turbine generators are massive. Their blades alone are the length of a Boeing 737 jetliner, while a turbine’s 270-foot height is equivalent to that of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. The sweep of the blades is the size of three NHL hockey rinks; one turbine weighs 253 tonnes, and their concrete foundations run up to 10 metres deep. The turbine’s engine nacelle alone is the size of a large school bus.
The presentation outlined a series of projects that opponents believe are planned for the region by four wind power companies. They are:
• SkyPower Corp: In addition to the six-turbine facility in Wilno, the firm wants to build six more turbines along the Killaloe Opeongo line, plus six more in Madawaska. It is also considering six turbines at Foymount, and there have been media reports that the company is planning 68 turbines at that site.
• Renewable Energy Source, or RES: The meeting was told that this firm plans up to 80 turbines for the Denbigh area, and up to 60 in the Whitney/Madawaska area. “Whitney is the gateway to Algonquin Park,” Sedgeman said. “How many visitors come here to get away from it all and now they’re going to find themselves in an industrial installation.”
• AIM, or Action in Motion: The company has 5,000 acres under option and another 5,000 acres underway and would likely erect about 60 turbines along the historic Opeongo Line, the meeting was told.
• Brookfield Renewable Power: Plans for between 50 and 60 towers near Dacre.
The grand total is up to 352 turbines for the region, the meeting was told.
“So what does this mean? It means over 100 massive industrial towers on the ridge of the historic Opeongo Line,” Sedgeman said. “It means a million-dollar view from Wilno marred by towers on the horizon. And Whitney, Madawaska, the gateway to Algonquin Park, could have over 60 towers. These are three really sensitive areas. These are where tourists come; they are a magnet for people all over the world. And we know that in this Valley we have logging and we have tourism. These three areas also are a heritage landscape with historic venues and homes and I think that the history we have in this Valley has to be protected.”
In interviews after the meeting, some politicians disputed the 352-turbine figure, pointing out many of the proposals were in competition with each other. South Algonquin Councillor Bob Ogilvie expects that the correct number of proposed turbines would be about half the 352 figure once those competing proposals are taken into account.
Much of the meeting focused on concerns that the turbines pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, including destruction of wildlife habitat, birds killed by striking the turbine blades, which can revolve at speeds of up to 184 mph at the blade tips. Sedgeman questioned the accuracy of SkyPower-commissioned studies, charging that the species counts were far too low and the bird kill study was flawed. Such studies should be done by an independent agent, not someone hired by the power companies, she said.
Tower collapses and fires in the turbine engines are not unknown, the meeting heard. Lou Eyamie questioned how a turbine fire on a wooded hillside could be fought effectively.
One of the more poignant photographs was a view of the hillside opposite Scotland’s Stirling Castle, where an entire hillside has been denuded of vegetation in favour of 36 wind turbines.
The presentation included a short documentary on the impact of the Maple Ridge Wind Farm on Tug Mountain in Lewis County, N.Y. The 195-turbine operation is the largest in the state and is situated on primarily agricultural lands. The film included testimony from several county residents of the detrimental impact on animals and people.
“This is now well-researched and compelling evidence from Europe, the United States and Canada” that the health problems encountered by people living near wind turbines are real, Brian Tyrrell said, adding that the turbine blades produce significant amounts of audible and low-frequency noise “that travels great distances, vibrating buildings, people and animals.
“People say that not only can they hear the noise, you can also feel it.”
Tyrrell cited testimonials from residents living near wind farm operations in Southern Ontario. They included farmers who have decided to leave their farms due to sleep deprivation from the constant low-intensity noise from turbines. One resident described the effect as like being near “an endless train.”
He also mentioned a study by an English doctor, Nina Pierpont, who has labelled the cumulative health effects in some people “wind turbine syndrome.” These include sleep problems and health issues that stem from sleep problems such as increased blood pressure and heartbeat. Other effects reported include headaches, including migraines, dizziness, nausea and problems with concentration.
Speaker Garnet Kranz, a Killaloe realtor and appraiser, issued a challenge to the area’s elected officials: Look into the matter and get some regulations in place for wind farm projects. At the moment, he said, there are no rules to govern them.
Kranz, a former Ontario Hydro maintenance director who also served as Killaloe’s hydro commissioner and is a member of the board of directors of the Ottawa River Power Corp., has also done work for the wind power companies. He said regulations, including a minimum distance separation from dwellings, are desperately needed before wind farms should be allowed to set up operations.
“My dear elected officials, we do not have any direct knowledge of what’s happening,” Kranz said. “How far do you have to be away from a wind tower before you can build another house? Is it 2,000 feet? Is it 3,000 feet? If it’s 3,000 feet, you people that have property around it, don’t try to sell it, because you’ll have a hell of a time to give it away. It won’t be worth nothing.”
Kranz also called for a contingency fund large enough to clean up any environmental damage caused by wind farms, including abandoned turbines if a firm should go out of business.
And he issued a caution to landowners who lease their property for wind turbines. “I would like to suggest to all the landowners who signed a lease – go to your insurance company and find out if … there is any liability coverage and I think you’ll find there isn’t any because there’s no insurance company that I’m aware of …. that would give you liability insurance that would protect your liability from that generator that’s on your land.”
Warren Johnson of Sebastopol Township in Bonnechere Valley said the economic benefits to the area of wind farms are minimal. There are some short-term jobs, he conceded. But the power companies have preferred lists of contractors for most of the construction work. Once built, the turbines are protected by remote cameras. The property tax benefits to municipalities are minimal. And the power generated is very costly because it is so heavily subsidized by tax dollars.
Johnson also said the issue had caused undue strife between area residents.
“The wind power debate is the most divisive force that I have encountered in the 70 years that I have lived there.
“The wind power companies …. have to date created a degree of discord not previously envisaged. It has put in conflict neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend, and brother against brother, and to what end?
“You get an intermittent and limited flow of electricity at a very high cost, and that’s it.” He also questioned the benefits even for landowners who lease their property out for turbines.
The best deal he has seen, Johnson said, is a payment of three per cent of profits and $5,000 annually per turbine.
“It may not be the bonanza you saw at first glance.”
In closing, Sedgeman urged residents to take up the fight against the wind projects by informing themselves on the issue and signing the group’s petition.
Township of Madawaska Valley Mayor John Hildebrandt did not want to comment in detail on the matters raised at the Killaloe public meeting until next week. However, he stressed that “There are always two sides to every story. I’m looking at this issue long and hard.” Hildebrandt added that the entire MV council plans to visit wind farms in Southern Ontario, possibly sites at Shelburne and Kincardine, where they want to seek the views of local residents about the wind turbines.
MV Councillor Shelley Maika said the meeting raised several concerns that she would like to see addressed, in particular the lack of existing regulations for wind farms, questions about the overall number of wind turbines that will be erected in the area, and about their impact on both the scenic views in the area and on local residents and wildlife.
South Algonquin Councillor Ogilvie, a supporter of green power initiatives in general, said last week’s meeting changed his views to a degree.
“I suspect that the organizers were emphasizing the negative,” Ogilvie said in a telephone interview. Nonetheless, he added, “I came away from the meeting considerably more skeptical than I was at first.” Before the meeting, he said that he thought, “It’s green power – great, why not go for it?” He now thinks that both the impact and the alleged benefits of the projects need more study, as well as more public meetings.
Both Ogilvie and fellow Councillor Joe Florent favour some sort of measure that would require wind power companies to post a bond or establish contingency funds so that taxpayers are not left holding the bag if a company goes broke or if its generators cause environmental or health damages.
By Douglas Gloin
16 July 2008
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