Council granted a zoning bylaw amendment that could see new wind turbines along Lakeshore Road in Norfolk, but not everyone is happy about it.
Council heard from several concerned citizens living in and around the former Township of Houghton, where the lands in question are located. They cited everything from concern for native bird species to noise pollution as reasons to oppose the zoning bylaw amendment.
The application, from AIM PowerGen Corporation, affects six parcels of land currently zoned agricultural. AIM obtained a special provision to the land’s zoning, which adds wind turbines as a permitted use. If AIM goes ahead and adds turbines on the lands in question, they would be part of Phase 2 of the Erie Shores Wind Farm.
Ross Bateman was the first to speak out against the zoning amendment. He said adding turbines would contravene the county Official Plan, which he said speaks to protecting the delicate area along the Erie lakeshore.
Moreover, said Bateman, wind farms aren’t as “green” as their proponents would have people believe.
Bateman asked council to suspend a decision on the application.
“There are plenty of red flags,” he said, “plenty of worries to be resolve”¦I fully expect wind farms to proliferate along the lakeshore, but I’m unsure Norfolk should be at the forefront when there are so many questions.”
Another of Bateman’s concerns was the impact wind turbines could have on the migratory patterns of the area’s bird species. His concern was shared by area resident Stefana Johnston, who said if new turbines go up, the tundra swans that visit the area will surely no longer return.
“How sensitive must an area be for us to protect it from the encroachment of these wind turbines?” she asked council.
Johnston also cited the noise pollution generated by wind turbines as one of her reasons for opposing the zoning bylaw amendment. Though she had no indisputable proof, she attributed a thunder-like noise on an otherwise storm-free evening to the wind turbines and high winds.
Ian Christopher also spoke on the zoning bylaw amendment. He recently purchased property adjacent to one of the parcels of land in question. Noise was among his concerns as well, but the larger issue for him, was aesthetics.
“I don’t want any more windmills south of Lakeshore Road,” he said, “because it ruins the aesthetic.”
Other area residents cited potentially plummeting property values, and the need for more data on the turbines to be collected locally, as opposed to in a controlled, wind tunnel setting.
There are currently 66 turbines up and running in Elgin and Norfolk counties, but just because Norfolk council granted the zoning bylaw amendment doesn’t mean there will necessarily be more.
Jim Wilgar of AIM PowerGen Corporation said the size of the piece of land in question, as well as county-imposed setbacks and other restrictions, determines how many turbines a piece of land can support. By the same token, he said, those same setbacks and restrictions may preclude locating even a single turbine there.
Wilgar said AIM didn’t want confrontation on the subject, but he did take time to address some of the issues raised.
In terms of noise, he likened the sound of a wind turbine to the sound of a refrigerator running, if you were seated in an adjacent room. And while certain meteorological conditions do affect the amount of noise a turbine produces, Wilgar added he has never experienced the thunder-like sound mentioned by Johnston. He did say, however, that when wind velocities rise beyond a certain level, the turbines have a cut-off feature, and stop working.
Although some residents raised concerns about wind farms elsewhere in the world, which are garnering less-than-favourable reviews, Wilgar said they really don’t compare with Erie Shores 1 or 2. He said that in recent years, the turbine technology has changed dramatically, making them more efficient and less intrusive. He also said density requirements – the number of turbines permitted in a given area – are different elsewhere than they are here.
As for the productivity of wind farms, Wilgar said the power being generated by Erie Shores Phase 1 is such that, if the area were to lose power, the Town of Tillsonburg might still have its lights on, while other areas would not.
Next, Wilgar addressed bird mortality, saying that while some casualties were anticipated, AIM “has been very responsive to the bird issue.”
Around the table, Coun. John Hunt was the only one to speak out against the zoning bylaw amendment. He reiterated the many concerns raised, and added he wouldn’t want a turbine near his property, either.
Despite residents who turned out at Tuesday’s meeting to complain, Coun. Jim Oliver said he was struck by how few complaints the county had received from those in the vicinity of existing turbines.
Oliver added he agreed with Wilgar’s assessment of AIM’s handling of the bird issue, reminding council that several prospective properties were abandoned as turbine sites to prevent bird mortality.
Councillor Roger Geysens, who has visited the turbines on several occasions, said he didn’t find the noise there excessive. He added that wind power is “much more green than coal-fired,” and supported the issue because “it’s good planning.”
Councillor John Wells was somewhat more reluctant. Although he supported the amendment, he promised to visit and research the turbines already working, so he’d be better prepared should any future requests for turbines come before council.
Likewise, Coun. Heidy Van Dyk urged council to regard wind farms as “secondary sources of power,” and to look at each request that comes to council “on its own merits.”
At a council meeting held earlier in the year, Wilgar updated councillors on plans to add a further 12 turbines to the existing 66. He added that long-term plans are to expand the existing wind farm by adding an additional 25 to 30 turbines amongst those already standing.
If AIM goes ahead as planned, there would be 108 turbines producing 150 Megawatts of power – the full amount allocated to the company by the province back in 2002.
By Nancy Boutin
16 March 2007
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