Wind power is renewable, and emission-free but critics complain turbines are noisy, threaten migratory birds and destroy property values
Even Canada’s leading promoter of wind power admits that the industry has to learn from its critics and work with them.
Sean Whittaker, policy director of the Canadian Wind Energy Association of Ottawa, says public concerns can be expected with any new technology.
“Their concerns are definitely legitimate and something we have to take seriously,” Mr. Whittaker said recently in Halifax.
“There’s a general understanding within the wind industry that our survival depends on our ability to take those concerns seriously and to act on them.
“”It’s important in all these cases that not everything is labelled NIMBY. As soon as somebody has a concern about a wind turbine, you can’t say this is a NIMBY.
“”Let’s be honest, wind is fairly new to the economic and political landscape. And it’s perfectly natural that people are going to ask questions about it.”
Nova Scotia has one of the best wind-power regimes in North America, according to a Stanford University study. And wind-generated electricity is being pushed by the government because it produces no emissions, is entirely renewable and ranks as one of the cleanest sources of electricity.
But that doesn’t stop critics like Lisa Betts from speaking up.
Ms. Betts, who lives in the scenic Gulf Shore area just outside Pugwash, is opposing a wind farm proposed for her backyard. She has a host of reasons, including the possibility of declining property values.
She purchased her home 14 years ago, hoping it would increase in value and become her retirement fund.
“Our official line is, green is good but in appropriate places, and this isn’t an appropriate place.”
Ms. Betts says she is not anti-wind or against renewable energy but argues that projects should be pursued in a responsible way, with more consultation.
She is joined in the battle of the (turbine) blades by one of the area’s most distinguished seasonal residents, singer Anne Murray.
Ms. Betts and 450 other members of the Gulf Shore Preservation Association oppose a developer’s plan to build 20 to 27 large wind turbines in the area.
Last summer, Ms. Murray wrote a commentary in The Chronicle Herald, saying many people want to build their “dream home” in the area. A wind farm would be catastrophic, she said.
Ms. Murray said she supports the idea of wind-generated electricity but opposes the location of the turbines in an area close to where people live and said there are too many unanswered questions concerning the effects of noise, vibration and shadow flicker.
Her comments upset wind developer Charles Demond. He responded that the singer’s remarks are not “helpful” for his business and for the development of wind farms in the province.
Mr. Demond’s company persuaded Cumberland County council last May to approve a bylaw establishing a “setback” distance of 500 metres between turbines and residences.
Like other wind developers, he says this distance is required to hook up to the power grid. A two-kilometre setback requested by people living in the area would kill the project, he says.
That argument doesn’t sway Ms. Betts, who wants Nova Scotia Power to build power lines in remote areas.
For Dianne Powell, 30, of Wentworth Station, a few turbines in the backyard don’t pose a huge problem. She already lives in the shadow of three.
But a proposal to add another 66 units has her upset. She has health concerns about living next to all those wind turbines. And she says building them would be a problem.
“The three here right now are unobtrusive, but another 66 on the top of the ridge would be disruptive,” she says. “I really do live in the woods. I ski, walk and hike every day. It is a recreational area.”
Like Ms. Betts, Ms. Powell says uniform provincial regulations could pave the way for orderly project development. (So far, the province has said it will let municipalities create guidelines or regulations for wind power projects.)
Edith Callaghan, director of the Arthur Irving Academy for the Environment at Acadia University, says a balance has to be struck between the critics and the project sponsors.
“Every individual project needs to be scrutinized, but it doesn’t mean you start off with a position of opposition,” says Ms. Callaghan. “You can oppose local development but if you still want to consume electricity, it’s got to come from somewhere. Someone is going to take the hit on this.”
Ms. Callaghan says business “doesn’t necessarily have a squeaky-clean record” on the environment. Companies have to be up front about what they are planning and do more community outreach, she says.
Mr. Whittaker agrees.
The wind-power lobbyist says developers must follow the five Cs: consultation, consultation, consultation, construction and more consultation.
“As long as they engage in that consultation, be it a private developer, co-op or community, they can definitely reduce any opposition to it by consulting early and often.”
He says most wind developers want to ensure their projects are accepted, and all must undergo an environmental assessment that allows the public to voice any concerns. Issues range from disruption of birds’ migratory patterns to the sound of the blades turning in the wind.
In most cases, he says, developers will make changes in the project to ensure acceptance by the community.
He says when people are opposed to wind power they usually start out talking about noise, birds or health matters. But once those issues are resolved, it boils down to fear of their property value dropping.
Mr. Whittaker tries his best to offer some comfort to homeowners by pointing to a new report prepared for Nova Scotia municipalities. The study shows little evidence that Canadian property values decrease as a result of nearby wind energy projects.
By Judy Myrden
10 March 2008
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