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Turbine turmoil in rural districts  

ESSEX – It’s no longer about the 3 Bs – birds, bats and butterflies. It’s about people, politics and money.

With a dozen companies poised to build as many as a 1,000, 120-metre-high wind turbines, rural life in this area could change forever, says Bill Anderson of the Essex County Wind Action Group.

When the wind turbines first started being proposed a few years ago, they were opposed by people worried about migratory bird routes and the impact on a variety of flying wildlife.

But people will also be negatively affected, Anderson warned.

“There won’t be any place in Essex County you will be able to stand without seeing wind turbines,” he said. “These things are 400 feet high.”

The final public meeting to hear comment on Essex County’s draft planning policies for commercial wind farms is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Centre.

Citizen groups like Anderson’s will be out in force along with the proponents of wind farms.

The Jones Consulting Group recommends dividing the county into four management areas with increasing demands on proponents to show no harmful effects on residents or the environment. But the largest area is the least restrictive.

Ian Kerr, a senior manager for Brookfield Power, said one of his main concerns is too much duplication between regulations at the local, provincial and federal level.

Brookfield is proposing Canada’s largest commercial wind farm with 148 turbines scattered over large parts of Kingsville and Lakeshore at a capital cost of $500 million.

Generally, the planning regulations proposed for Essex County won’t negatively impact Brookfield’s project, Kerr said. He welcomes the recommendation for a local disputes resolution process to sort out complaints by citizens about wind turbines before they end up with the environment ministry or some other regulatory body.

“Our preference is to have it (a complaint) come to us right away,” Kerr said.

A one-kilometre buffer zone is proposed between commercial wind farms and settlement areas.

But Anderson questions the definition of a “settlement area” because he sees lots of homes in places around the county that don’t show up on the planning map for the wind turbine management areas.

And with the biggest wind turbines likely to be visible for 10 to 25 kilometres or more in flat Essex County, Anderson argues the buffer zones are too small. He suggests a minimum two-kilometre buffer from residential areas.

People leave cities for rural areas to put tall buildings and bustle behind them, said Anderson. He suspects many aren’t going to be happy living in the shadows of 120-metre-high turbines with blades that turn constantly.

Anderson said the Jones report hasn’t drawn enough on the greater experience with wind energy in Europe and its increasingly tighter regulation to minimize impacts on humans.

Anderson’s group has a web page at www.essexcountywind.wordpress.com that attempts to gather the experiences with wind energy around the world. It’s getting about 70 hits a day.

When taxpayer subsidies began to be eliminated in countries like Denmark and Spain, new wind turbines projects were scaled back and some were taken out of production, said Kingsville’s John Lee, who’s been a leader in the debate about wind energy in the Leamington and Kingsville area. Lee wonders whether provincial taxpayers are going to be paying wind companies for power even when they don’t produce it.

Lee noted a German report that suggested improved treatment of air emissions from fossil power plants would be a better strategy for reducing greenhouse gases than wind power. Management of the province’s power grid needs to be watched more closely as more commercial wind farms are proposed, said Lee.

People hosting wind farms get financial compensation, but for neighbours one of the big concerns is long-term impact on property values, Lee said.

The biggest wind turbines are about the height of 40-storey buildings, Lee said. Essex County has nothing that high now.

As the bigger companies complete their environment screening reports and get approval to connect to the grid, municipal land rezonings and official plan amendments will be the final hurdle.

Once the county updates its official plan to deal with wind turbines and other alternate energy projects, the seven municipalities would have to do the same.

The municipal regulations could be stricter, but not less stringent than what’s finally approved for the county’s official plan.

The broad goal of the new policies is to protect the county as “one of the most biologically diverse regions in Canada,” which is internationally recognized for major migrations of birds, bats and insects.

WIND POWER PREMATURE?

Retired Nortel engineer John Lee of Kingsville said there’s increasing skepticism worldwide about the economic and green benefits of wind energy, and the significant risk for disrupting current power supplies because of its erratic nature.

Typically, land-based wind turbines are able to generate electricity less than 30 per cent of their operating time, Lee said, adding over-water locations fare a bit better. Lee said wind energy companies are going to be paid about three times as much for their electricity as the average cost of production by Ontario Power Generation from coal, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.

The recent shutdown of the 580-megawatt Brighton Beach natural gas-fired power plant in Windsor due to lack of demand is a warning that investment in wind power is premature, except perhaps in isolated areas.

Gary Rennie

The Windsor Star

6 May 2008

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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