November 16, 2007

Group seeks changes in wind by-law

Norman Schmidt hasn’t always been opposed to wind farms.

In fact, when Sequoia Energy Inc. held an open house in Altona in 2006, he said he saw the technology of wind energy as a bright, environmentally-sound solution to hydro, and a great supplement to agriculture.

But soon, Schmidt began to question how these enormous wind turbines would affect the people who had to live near them. He and his wife moved to their 12-acre property near Altona in 2003 with the purpose of enjoying rural living and drawing inspiration for their artistic work from the land.

Along with their Summer Kitchen Studio, their farmyard includes meandering paths with a labyrinth laid out in the meadow for quiet meditation. Many people come to visit on the annual Pembina Valley Artists Studio Tour.

Schmidt and a large group of neighbours and area residents feel their quiet country solitude will soon come to an end with the arrival of wind turbines.

They have spent countless hours in research, discussed their concerns with wind energy representatives, and heard from people around the world who have literally lived in the shadow of these enormous structures. They have informed the media and alerted the public, but feel their protests have largely fallen on deaf ears.

On Nov. 7, a delegation of 14 area residents opposed to wind turbines were given 15 minutes before the R.M. of Rhineland council.

Schmidt spoke for the group, reading a comprehensive, nine-page information package which included scientific research, illustrations, case studies, as well as their appeals and, what they call cryptic responses from wind energy companies.

One purpose of the delegation’s report was to create an awareness of what they feel have been deceptive claims on the part of wind companies.

“Acquiring access rights to private land is a major first objective of the industry,” Schmidt said. “And here is the problem. A typical windplant is gigantic, arranged along many miles of access roads and communication line infrastructure. But the potential for profit is so great that developers have resorted to less than scrupulous means to secure those all-important rights. Thousands of acres of private farmland have been signed over – more than is needed – hurriedly and in secret before too many people were aware of what was happening, while the project was still in the feasibility stage,” he said.

Another purpose of the report was to inform council of the psychological, physical and economical costs of wind turbines. Schmidt said the proximity of these sky-scraper size structures will diminish the natural harmony of the countryside.

He included a study on Wind Turbine Syndrome, listing symptoms such as sleep problems, headaches, depression, learning problems, and tinnitus caused by the shadow flicker and the continuous swooshing, grinding, and thumping sounds, reportedly coming from the turbines, day and night.

Many, he said, have been so disturbed by the constant noise that they’ve had to leave their homes. “Realtors doing business near windplants in the United States and in Europe will sell for less near a windplant,” Schmidt said.

“All negative claims have been denied or downplayed by developers,” he added. “They even attempt to prevent them being discussed – to the point where gag orders are included in the company contracts.”

The delegation asked that the R.M. of Rhineland amend By-Law 2005-15 with the minimum setback for industrial turbines to be 1 km from dwellings and places people congregate. They also request that no turbine shadows fall across private dwellings and places people congregate or into their viewfield.

Council said they would take the information under advisement. Schmidt later said, “I hope this had a positive affect.” He fears that this issue will eventually drive a wedge between landowners and residents.

Delegation member and local artist Todd Braun says he knows of a couple of people in the area who regret signing the wind contracts, but the gag orders forbid them from talking about it.

Paul Bergman was also at the meeting. “I’ve been looking to potentially buy land in the R.M. of Rhineland, but the direction of this discussion could definitely influence where I purchase. I wouldn’t want to live near a wind turbine,” he said.

By Lori Penner

Altona Red River Valley Echo

16 November 2007

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