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Wind energy: beware, turbulence ahead  

Wind farm projects are growing like mushrooms after a rainy day, but the air is turbulent in the wind industry. Industrial wind farms are not as nice and green as promoters want us to believe. Like an opponent puts it : “There is more here than immediately meets the eye with industrial wind generators, and often the devil is in the details.”

Pugwash in Nova Scotia, Wolfe Island in Ontario, Saint-Arsene in Quebec, and Edinbane in Scotland are actually living very stressful times. These small places are being called names by both industrialists and environmentalists because of their opposition to a green energy project.

Lots of other small places have the same problem in the world : Carrolltown in New York, Cairnbrook in Pennsylvania, Chilton in Wisconsin, Glenrock in Wyoming, Saint-Joseph in Manitoba, Greensburg in Kansas, Benjamin in West Virginia, Mount Hays in British Columbia, Sevenmile Hill in Oregon, Bagthorpe in England and many others.

Wind farm projects are growing like mushrooms after a rainy day, but the air is turbulent in the wind industry. Industrial wind farms are not as nice and green as promoters want us to believe. Like an opponent puts it : “There is more here than immediately meets the eye with industrial wind generators, and often the devil is in the details.”

Like a lot of other countries, Canada is actually facing a rush of private wind energy companies. Don’t be fooled, the money promoters are investing in wind energy has nothing to do with the environment. What these astute industrialists want is clear : profit from government Green Energy Projects, grab all incentive money available, commit as little as possible to local economy and then run or sell their wind farms to large income funds. All political parties are praising the wind energy but all, including the Green Party, are carefully avoiding the tough questions. The truth is that our politicians are misinformed, naïve and gullible. They all want to be known as green because nowadays for everyone, green is the politically correct colour to wear. The story is the same whether you live in Canada, in Australia, in Scotland or in France.

Don’t misunderstand me !; I believe that making a profit is a sign of good management. I have no anti-capitalistic thinking and I believe that the wealth of nations is built by entrepreneurs but I also strongly believe in responsible investment. A few years ago, I did sell one of the first Canadian tax shelter in the wind energy when I worked as a investment broker. Don’t give me that grap thinking about what is good for the economy and the global market. Buying garlic from China at the supermarket instead of buying it from local producers is totally stupid from a common sense point of view and some wind farms also defy pure common sense as you will see.

Most wind energy projects are industrial in size, ranging from 30 to 150 turbines. Simple people are often blinded by the very words “wind energy”. They cannot imagine that one could oppose so green a project as a wind farm. Well, I’m opposed to some industrial wind farm projects and for good reasons !; Wind farms do have downside effects : on the landscape, on health, on property value and also on our energy supply.

Wind farms may be built on private land but they affect the landscape, which is common property, so to speak. We judge things according to their potential return on investment. It is then only normal that promoters are at loss when one speaks of the “value” of a landscape. In Europe, citizens are complaining that miles of landscape have already been destroyed by wind farms and that people have been forced to leave their homes for health reasons. Let’s face it, a wind farm is like a forest of huge towers with intermittent headlights on top of them for airplanes ; nobody can miss them !; Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but still, some landscape are exceptional and we need to protect them ; a wind farm project in front of Niagara Falls would certainly not gain public support in Canada.

The French National Academy of Medicine has called for a moratorium of all industrial wind farms within one and a half kilometers of any residence, because they felt there was a risk for people exposed to the sounds generated by the turbines. The United Kingdom Noise Association recommends the same. A number of health issues have already been raised and researchers have found a cluster of symptoms near industrial wind turbines : headaches, dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, anxiety, anger and irritability.

The wind industry has been trying to convince everyone that there is no problem with bird kills but independent scientific reports of bird and bat deaths near a wind facility estimates the annual death toll between three and six thousand, far worse than anything the wind industry is ready to admit publicly.

It is a well known fact in Europe that land value near a wind farm declines immediately because nobody wants to live near a forest of huge towers. A wind farm is different from the idyllic postcard we mentally have of wind mills in Holland and a wind farm is not a tourist attraction. A wind farm area is a ghetto area, land prices go down. In Danemark, the liberal government is about to pass a bill to give compensation for land loss value to people living near a new wind turbine.

The construction of a wind farm also implies a lot of cement ; a sea of cement would give a better picture. Thousands of very long, broad and heavy trucks will damage all the network of roads. Who will pay the bill ? In 30 years, if the promoters have not declared bankruptcy to avoid paying for dismantling the towers, the cement foundations will be left to the grandchildren of the original owners. Promoters should put money in trust to cover end-of-life dismantling ; a form of asset fund for future generations.

By nature, wind is erratic. An expert who spent his whole life working in generating stations says that “wind power can never become part of any large power grid, it is nothing more than an unreliable add on which is a serious nuisance to grid operators.” A wind farm produces little electricity and adds almost nothing to our generating capacity but yes, it is green and more importantly, it has the favour of politicians around the world.

Promoters say that their wind farm brings an economic windfall, but 75% of the expenses are for the turbines built by multinationals. The truth is that local entrepreneurs will provide the sand, the gravel and the donuts. The company pays royalties to the farmers for their land but prices vary a lot depending on how gullible people are and contracts are secrets of the trade. Farmers often realize later on that all the drainage system is modified and that their lands are permanently damaged for crops. An industrial wind farm creates few jobs locally because the turbines can be monitored by a technician working far away in an office filled with computers.

During public hearings, two promoters were recently scolded by the commissioners for having failed to mention and supply critical information, for not having notified residents affected, for having frequently changed site plans without consulting the township and for failing to comply with several regulations, showing in fact no regard for the environment or for the residents. This is the reality Wolfe Island near Kingston Ontario is actually living and there are hundreds of other cases around the world.

Urban environmentalists, unaware of the real issues, are often saying that any opposition to wind farm project is wrong. If greedy promoters and big shareholders had their way, public enquiries would never be necessary. It is not a question of NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude. One company in Ontario has a wind farm project right in front of a wildlife protected area. Some far-west entrepreneurs would like to construct wind farms right in your frontyard. The landscape, the local environment and public opinion are being ignored, this is totally unacceptable for society as well as detrimental to the wind industry in general.

These huge towers will still be on our landscape when today’s decision makers are dead. In June of last year, during public hearings by an environmental commission, we proposed that wind farms should be moved away from cultivated lands, away from rivers, from migratory corridors, scenic landscape and heavily populated areas. The best place for wind turbines is the seashore like in Holland. Substantial indemnities should go to repair the road system and standards should be set for the contracts with the farmers. Local residents should be paid on a system based on proximity to the turbine rather than on a system based on straight rent because landscape is a form of common space which belongs to everyone. Municipalities have to become partners with the wind industry. Power utilities should have standard offer contracts that permits local participation. Large wind farm projects, especially those over 100 turbines, should be moved in Canada’s northlands or on the shores of large hydroelectrical reservoirs.

Some will say that the wind farms are replacing coal fired generating plants or nuclear generators. This is not the case. We have better alternatives. Geothermal energy is the greenest and most economical alternative to meet our heating requirements while solar energy is the best one for our energy requirements. Wind energy projects have several downside effects. Why is it that the protection of multinationals and the wind industry’s interests override the protection of wildlife, the environment, local public opinion as well as pure common sense ? The answer is that money talks.

The people building wind farms are not environmentalists but astute promoters who want to profit from green subsidies using tax shelters. These companies feel that they should be able to do as they like without regard for the stakeholders. Milton Friedman would be proud of them for he once wrote that an officer of a company who cares about anything else but maximizing shareholders dividends is to be considered as a subversive element. How could he receive a Nobel prize in Economy ?

Because of greedy promoters, large industrial wind farms are rapidly becoming anti-environmental because they are symbols, not of our respect for the environment but of industrial domination over our resources. The situation is the same in every modern country of the world. Only China has no opposition to the wind industry, but is opposition really possible in China ? The best options for our heating and energy requirements are clearly solar and geothermal energies. Governments should transfer tax credits from wind to geothermal and solar energy. They should also start seriously to promote the use of these green energy in all public buildings and give strong fiscal incentives to companies working in the energy efficiency field. Wind farms are unreliable and are not the best solution to the world energy problems.

If you ever wake up in the middle of a 100 turbine wind farm project, you will not be fighting alone.

Bernard Viau
viaub@sympatico.ca

August 4, 2007

cmaq.net

[Bernard Viau was the editor of the national newsletter for the Green Party of Canada. When he posted an article denouncing wind in early July, there was such a backlash that he resigned his post.]

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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