Some local residents and citizens’ groups expressed disappointment with two recent wind energy meetings that they feel did not fully address the negative impacts of wind power developments proposed for much of Essex County.
“Overall, the presentation was extremely one-sided – unfortunately,” said Malden resident Bill Anderson, chair of the Essex County Wind Action Group (ECWAG), speaking of a public wind energy meeting co-hosted by the Essex County Federation of Agriculture and Kent County Federation of Agriculture March 29 in Tilbury.
“The emphasis, to the point of exaggeration, was put on any positive aspects of wind turbines in Essex County, while any comments made by the presenters about negative aspects actually trivialized them,” said Anderson, who complained that the format afforded no opportunity for debate.
“No mention or concern was directed towards the properties of the thousands of rural residents who do not own farms, but are neighbours with legitimate concerns about decreased property values, noise, health, wildlife, and overall quality of life,” he said.
At the public meeting, brief 20-minute presentations were given by Mike Crawley, president of AIM PowerGen, a UK-owned wind energy company based in Toronto; Juan Anderson, an engineer with M. K. Ince, a wind energy consulting firm; and Ted Cowan, a researcher with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture Farm Policy Research Group.
Earlier that day, ECFA hosted a similar but more indepth meeting with interested Essex County municipal leaders and staff. Although that session was lightly attended, citizens who had expressed interest in attending that meeting were barred entry.
“I was refused entry to a wind energy meeting that has been organized by an association into which I pay membership,” said Colette McLean, a Colchester farmer and OFA member, who had explained to organizers that she was unable to attend the later meeting.
“I have noticed in the past year, since the prospect of having a wind farm come to my area, that tension, suspicion, fear and even anger has developed within my friends, family and neighbours,” said McLean.
McLean expressed bewilderment over the province’s handling of wind energy development, expecting farmers “to carry the full risk” without being fully informed of the implications.
“Believe me, I am all for renewable energy, but for ones that provide feasible economic return for my province in the long-term and that do not degenerate one sector’s quality of life or long-term viability,” she said.
Members of ECWAG were also barred from the afternoon meeting. They handed out information sheets at both meetings.
Although a largely positive presentation was given by representatives from AIM PowerGen, Ted Cowan cautioned farmers and landowners on lease agreements, providing an updated list of 30 recommendations from the OFA.
“I’ve seen over 30 leases, and there are problems with every one,” said Cowan, who outlined key considerations necessary to protect the rights of the farmers contemplating a wind power lease agreement.
“Don’t sign a lease until you have considered the choices and determined what is best for your farm operation for the next 20 years,” he said.
Cowan said some wind power companies are not giving a fair share of their profits, typically around 2 per cent, noting that the OFA recommendations call for a rent of 3 per cent for the first eight years, then going up to 8 or 10 per cent. The OFA also suggests that farmers contact their power distribution company to acquire their own right to connect.
Farmers were also cautioned on assessment and tax implications.
“It’s your farm – it’s your taxes,” said Cowan, noting that the landowner was ultimately responsible for taxes on their property. In addition, Cowan said there was no guarantee that the provincially imposed caps on assessments and taxes would remain in the future.
“I don’t know, taxes could be 50 times of what they are right now,” he said.
Outside of lease and legal considerations, there was detailed mention of more serious problems encountered by farmers with nearby wind power installations at the first meeting.
Cowan said a farmer had lost some cattle due to problems from stray voltage encountered right after a wind power development was commissioned, an incident that came to the attention of the OFA at the end of last year. Cowan declined to state the location of the incident, except to say it was in Ontario.
“If you put your hand on his barn wall you will have 83 volts going through your body,” said Cowan, who noted that voltage has a greater effect on cattle because of their large body size, causing changes in the animals watering and feeding habits.
“Yes, it could be a problem here,” said Cowan, speaking of Essex County’s numerous municipal drains and notorious wet soils, which can act as conductors of stray voltage.
To make the matter worse, Cowan said the farmer had not been getting help from the power companies or his municipality.
“Typically, it was who can run away from the responsibility the fastest,” he said.
By Andy Comber
4 April 2007
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