Lisa Betts is battling a large energy development near her home in northern Nova Scotia’s cottage country, but she’s not up against the usual foes of nuclear power or coal-fired generating stations that often draw the ire of locals.
Instead, the proposal that has Betts writing politicians and collecting petition signatures is a wind farm near the village of Pugwash that would include more than 20 turbines – symbols of a green future that governments across the country are eagerly embracing.
She has an unusual group of supporters on her side – from Nova Scotia-born singer Anne Murray to federal Green Leader Elizabeth May – in a debate that raises questions about how wind energy will be accepted as giant turbines sprout up closer to people.
Driving the controversy is the proposed distance between turbines and local residents, for which there are almost no standardized regulations. The county council recently updated its zoning bylaws to create a minimum setback of 500 metres, which Betts says is far too close.
“We don’t need that many turbines that they have to come to places like this where people live – put them where people aren’t,” says Betts, who is arguing for a buffer of two kilometres.
“I came to this part of the world for the peace and quiet. I didn’t come here to have turbines flapping around in the wind.”
Betts’s list of concerns is long and wide-ranging: constant noise, reduced property values, ruined countryside views, damage to local tourism, as-yet unproven health risks, potential dangers to wildlife.
These worries have been echoed by opponents in other parts of the country, as well. A similar debate has been playing out recently in southern Ontario surrounding a proposed wind farm near Kincardine, and objections have also been raised about developments in places like Prince Edward Island and Alberta.
A family in Lower West Pubnico, N.S., abandoned their home more than a year ago claiming noise from a nearby wind farm was making them sick, and another family in Elmira, P.E.I., recently did the same.
Critics typically insist they support green energy, they just want to see it implemented in the right way.
But Charles Demond, whose Atlantic Wind Power Corp. is behind the proposal in Pugwash and operates the 17-turbine farm in Lower West Pubnico, says half a kilometre is more than enough to allay concerns about noise and health.
The remaining complaints are primarily esthetic, he says, and there needs to be a balance that respects local residents while allowing wind energy to grow.
“I think most people would suggest that renewable energy is more important than never changing the landscape whatsoever,” says Demond, who insists the opposition appears to belong to a loud minority.
“Why should land owners not be entitled to use their properties in a certain way, and why should renewable energy be prohibited from going forward?”
As governments across the country move to curb global warming, wind turbines will likely become a more common part of the Canadian landscape.
Earlier this year, Ottawa announced its so-called ecoENERGY initiative, which will pour more than $1.5 billion into renewable energy projects.
In Nova Scotia, the government has told the province’s privately held utility, Nova Scotia Power, to boost renewable energy by more than 30 per cent to 530 megawatts. The Pugwash wind farm will be among those considered after proposals are submitted next month.
There aren’t standard rules governing where wind turbines can be built, since the matter is considered a local zoning issue, leaving each municipality to create its own regulations.
The provinces have discretion when developers seek approval through an environmental impact assessment. However, the final decision is largely subjective, considering a host of factors without hard and fast benchmarks.
Building support for wind farms – and turbines that can reach more than 100 metres into the air – is a challenge the industry recognizes, says the president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“As development increases and as the number of projects being built increases, the (opposition) is going to increase,” says Robert Hornung.
“At the end of the day if someone says, ‘I do not like the look of that wind turbine,’ nothing I can do will change that person’s mind. So in that case, the best that wind project developers can do is hear those concerns, try to respond to them the best they can. That is a challenge for the industry.”
He also says the governments that are promoting wind energy and funding projects have a responsibility to convince the public.
Still, Hornung says local opponents of wind projects are still in the minority. The association recently conducted polling in four regions of Ontario where there has been opposition to wind farms, and Hornung says the results suggested a majority were actually in favour of the developments – they just weren’t vocal.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May agrees the proposed turbines in Pugwash may be too close to residents.
“We need a lot more wind energy,” says May. “But if we start out with projects that ignore local concerns and railroad through projects in the wrong locations, we could end up having wind energy get a bad name.”
May came to the defence of singer Anne Murray – who spends the summers at her cottage in Pugwash – after the popular musician spoke out against the Pugwash development in a Halifax newspaper.
Murray says she worries the turbines will hurt the area’s cottage industry, which she says is vital to the local economy.
“We all are aware of global warming, and we all are in favour of wind power, we just have to look more closely where we put these things,” says Murray, a native of Springhill, N.S. “This is just not the place.”
15 July 2007
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