Property devaluation, a lack of democratic process, and insufficient guarantees for sound monitoring had a group of 15 RM of Rhineland residents asking council to consider several requests last week.
The group presented a five page document outlining their concerns about the proposed BowArk 120 wind turbine project to council, and highlighted several of them. Joe Braun questioned the lack of public consultation on the project, pointing out that many who are now opposed didn’t have that knowledge initially. “How… does a wind project that is to last 40 years, cost $750 million, and impose a massive industrial impact on the landscape, occur without public input and information, without regulations or guarantees?” he asked.
Reeve John Falk told the group the hearings have been held, and interest was limited. “We had the hearing and nobody showed up,” he said.
Falk added that at this point they are not considering holding another public forum, despite the request for one.
Concerns about property values were also expressed. According to the Ontario Wind Power Monthly magazine, local realtors expected house prices to drop 25-40 per cent . According to U.S. National Wind Watch home values in Wisconsin declined by 26 per cent within one mile of a wind turbine and 18 per cent at distances from one to five miles.
However the wind companies stance has long been that there is no evidence to suggest property values will be lowered. “That makes us wonder what he knows or doesn’t know,” Braun said.
Reeve John Falk said nobody really knows what will happen with values.
“I’m not going to sit here and say there will be no decrease, but it could be an increase too,” he said.
After the meeting Falk said it would be difficult to separate the various factors involved in property value changes. “How do you monitor property values?” he asked. But Norm Schmidt, another member of the group said the visual changes to the landscape will discourage growth. “Ask yourselves, would you buy or build next to a wind turbine?” he asked.
The group is also asking for a minimum setback of 1,000 metres, something they say is not unreasonable.
A public meeting held in December of 2007 saw that setback put into place for St. Francois Xavier. Wind farms in Oregon must be set back 1,000 metres and require a public hearing. In fact presenter Todd Braun said Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., and Quebec all have more stringent rules.
The group also requested guarantees regarding sound levels and monitoring of those levels and a protocol for legal recourse.
Todd Braun said the sound has been compared to an ocean, a jet, or a low altitude airplane circling.
He pointed out that the World Health Organization says levels exceeding 30 decibels at night are harmful to one’s health. “It’s not unreasonable to suggest the World Health Organization levels should not be compromised,” he said.
Even finding out who will ultimately be responsible for sound monitoring and enforcement is tough.
Braun said in many cases that’s left up to the wind companies themselves. “It’s like the fox guarding the hen house,” he said.
Councillors were skeptical about the sound issues. Bernie Bergen pointed out that Paul Grenier of St. Leon who made the jet comparison, was happy.
“He says it’s the best thing that happened to the community,” Bergen said.
But Braun responded by pointing out those who make money from them, will obviously not be as critical. “If you’re invested in it, it’s not as much of a problem,” he said.
Falk said while they will look into the noise issue, they aren’t about to commit to anything. “The RM will not guarantee anything,” he said.
BowArk President Brad Sparkes said they will guarantee the sound will not be louder than 40 decibels at the surface of a house. Provincial regulations set the maximum noise level at 45 decibels. He said that would be a worst case scenario, and the level inside the home would be less. “The machines have a guaranteed noise level when we purchase them,” he said.
BowArk is still negotiating a power purchase agreement and hopes to start construction in the fall.
By Greg Vandermeulen
20 June 2008