An article written in response to articles published in The Chatham Daily News April 15, “Gengrowth wind turbines approved,” and April 17, “Open house held, another wind farm project proposed.”
Don Quixote, in Cervantes’ classic by the same name, gallantly road off on his faithful steed, to slay the haunting, implacable, and ever-present giant – the windmill. Poor Quixote didn’t have a chance.
Concerned residents of Chatham-Kent feel the same frustration as independent companies, such as Gengrowth, and now Calgary based BowArk Energy Ltd. and Windsor-based Wind Prospect Inc. are proposing to add another 50 turbines to the 20 already approved by the Council of Chatham-Kent. Montreal based Kruger Energy is putting up 44 turbines near Port Alma. The windy invasion has just begun.
Many other wind energy companies are lining up with the direction and view to make Chatham-Kent a grid of hulking windmill giants and an eco-industrial park. It is a fast blowing wind. Not only, wind farm projects, but also the token and obligatory information nights cropping up all over the municipality. Interestingly, the information nights follow in the wake of deals cut by turbine developers and individual landowners prior to consultation with the public and a seemingly complicit council. This council represents taxpayers, and has an elected responsibility to protect the municipality’s most important natural, cultural and economic assets. Agricultural land, hundreds of acres, will ultimately be taken out of production. We have a unique fragile ecosystem including Rondeau Provincial Park and conservancy lands. Lake Erie is one of our greatest natural assets, tourist/vacation attractions, and cultural gems. Then there are heritage properties including, the historic Talbot Trail. Community and cultural identity is based on its natural assets and historical roots.
Gengrowth wind turbines are to be situated in a great monotonous line along the historic Talbot Trail, through Palmyra, Morpeth, and stretching out along the shores of Lake Erie. It is hard to imagine that in 2008, precious land bordering beautiful natural beaches and cliffs of Lake Erie will be dotted with giant wind turbines sweeping the countryside.
This is only one of many lines and grids that will weave through, connect, and wind around heritage and cultural landmarks while fencing in small towns and fencing out the natural beauty of rural Chatham-Kent.
While looking up, through and around these hunkering giants, one has to wonder what benefits they bring to Chatham-Kent and surrounding communities. It is interesting to note that some communities, like Leamington, have succeeded in stopping the spread of this invasion. Obviously, with the exception of the landowners who have generously allowed acreage to be taken out of production, very little is said about the economic and employment benefits to the trusting, green-friendly citizens of Chatham-Kent. While the public is assured that “Turbines have a significantly smaller impact on birds and bats than the dangers posed by high-rise buildings, predators or climate change.” What, perhaps, is being ignored is that this area is unique and fragile because it attracts an abundance of unusual bird species, and as a result is considered a Mecca for bird watchers and campers. The impact of turbines and its effect on a distinct and fragile eco system have not been studied to the fullest extent due to the fact that an independent environmental study has not been undertaken or supported by municipal council. Nor has a consultation with the Heritage Committee been initiated by council prior to granting permission to Gengrowth.
Like Quixote, one cannot help but feel an unsettling and disturbing ill wind brewing. While some residents of this municipality embrace wind turbines as a welcome and renewable energy alternative, others find it more prudent to consider the cost and long-lasting effects. The “not in my backyard mentality” is, admittedly, too often a selfish and a shortsighted response. This backyard, however, is species rich, agriculturally fertile and it comes with an enviable historical and cultural legacy.
Hopefully, there are a few Don Quixotes left. It is important and necessary to fight against the smiling giants of profit and opportunity whose false promises of economic benefits are, in this opinion, full of hot air and come at a great expense. It is time to demand that both the provincial and municipal governments preserve the heritage, and unique cultural and natural assets of Chatham-Kent. It is time to “tilt at windmills.”
8 May 2008