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Tilting at windmills  

Anyone who has travelled to southwestern Manitoba to see the “wind farm” at St. Leon knows what a remarkable, other-worldly – some say magical – vista it presents.

Over there, a row of giants pinwheeling above a bucolic setting of haystacks and barns. Over here, more reflected in the small lake where a heron rises on wings as aerodynamically perfect as the wings of the behemoths, which make a sound like that of a Jedi’s light sabre as they swoop round and round and round – vvvoooovv, vvvoooovv, vvvoooovv.

When construction of the farm began, Manitobans could not get enough of the wind turbines, of their stupefying size as they were erected and brought into production – 63 wind turbines in all, each as tall as the Richardson Building at Portage and Main. It seemed incomprehensible that wind farms were meeting with stiff opposition in other places.

But is seeing the whirling wonders now and then as intriguing – as awe-inspiring – as seeing them and hearing them day after night after day?

Officials in St. Leon have said the magic never fades, that there is no pining for the pastoral look of the past, no desire to restore the emptiness to the big sky; there is only pride in the community’s new- found fame – and fortune in rents paid to landowners and taxes paid to the rural municipality.

So why then are residents of St. Joseph and Elie up in arms at the prospect of having new wind farms located in their backyards? Or rather, why are they restating NIMBY – not in my backyard – as NIMBF – not in my back forty? Apparently because the novelty of wind farming is wearing off. What were once seen as graceful additions to the landscape are increasingly seen as blights, not just in southwestern Manitoba but across Canada and the world, for that matter. It would seem that wind turbines, like haute couture, go out of fashion, that the great new look of this season is a passing fancy that is relegated to the closet and mothballed the next.

To be sure, wind farms are not going to go away anytime soon, nor should they. They promise to play a significant role in slowing global warming. A piece on the page opposite this week proposed that the world needs not just the few score more of wind turbines proposed for the southwest, but a few more millions to supply greenhouse-gas-free energy.

But these are early days. It is one thing for St. Leon to play pioneer, to embrace the opportunities that a wind farm presents; it is quite another to force, shame or cajole people to join the pioneers against their wishes, or to expect people who have chosen to behold an open range from their property to give up that view to help electrify the concrete jungle of urban energy users.

The Doer government’s rationale for building wind farms in a water-rich province with untapped hydro potential was that they could produce electricity at rates comparable with hydro-generated electricity. But on that basis, it is fair to ask whether the economics that seem to make it worth it for everyone in general make it worth it for some in particular – the ones that actually pay an esthetic price. It is reasonable to ask whether the imperative that wind be as economical as water leads to rents that are unattractive. It is reasonable to ask whether the cash and other benefits paid to southwestern Manitobans in exchange for the imposition of wind farms is comparable with cash and benefits paid to northern Manitobans in exchange for the imposition of hydro generating stations. Finally, it is reasonable to ask why it is that a passive hydro transmission line down the east side of Manitoba is deemed esthetically offensive but active wind farms and the transmission lines from them in the southwest are deemed attractive additions to the landscape.

Winnipeg Free Press

21 July 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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