Winds of discontent; Firm insists wind turbines are safe, but critics of Innisfil park plan insist they won’t stop fighting
Opponents of a proposed wind farm in Innisfil say they’ll continue their fight to halt the project.
Schneider Power Inc. wants to construct five wind turbines on about 200 acres of land between Line 5 and Line 6, east of Highway 400. The company has had two wind turbines operating on Manitoulin Island since March 2007.
The Innisfil wind turbines would be anywhere from 79 metres to 108 metres to the hub (the final height has yet to be determined), plus another 41 metres to the top of the blade.
Residents and members of the Innisfil Wind Watchers are opposed to the project.
The group met with Schneider Power representatives last week and also spoke with Ministry of Environment (MOE) officials during a separate meeting.
Joe Chow, owner of Skydive Toronto, has “huge concerns” about the impact the wind turbines will have on his business.
The proposed site is less than a mile from the Cookstown Aerodrome, which is northeast of Cookstown.
“The wind farm would be right on the circuit of our airplanes. One day a pilot will collide with one of those things,” Chow said yesterday, while flying over the potential site of the project.
Because of the prevailing winds, Skydive Toronto planes routinely fly over that area. Their only other option would be to fly over the residential area of Churchill, he said.
“That’s what Schneider Power advised us to do,” Chow said. “The citizens of Churchill wouldn’t want us to do that. We’re doing circuits to the west to avoid flying over Churchill. We want to operate our business responsibly.
“If the (turbines) go up, we’ll have no choice other than flying over Churchill.”
Chow estimated the top of the blade’s arc to be about 400 feet. The land where the wind farm is located is 200 feet higher that Chow’s airstrip, so the obstacle height is effectively 600 feet, he said, adding that would be challenging for planes loaded with parachutists. Another concern for Chow is that the turbines would be upwind from the predominant winds of the air field.
“Parachutes can be affected by turbulence,” he said.
He also cites a report from the Canadian Wind Energy Association that states wind turbines can have an impact on radio communications and radar signals.
Gaye Trombley, also of the Innisfil Wind Watchers, operates an organic apple orchard called Avalon Orchards on Line 5 next to the proposed site.
“We want to make sure Schneider Power understands that we’re not going to back down, and are very determined that our concerns are addressed,” she said.
“It’s not just the company, but the various levels of government involved as well,” she added.
John Lundy, chief executive officer of Schneider Power, hopes that providing information to residents living near the proposed project will ease their concerns.
“We understand people have a fear of the unknown. I understand that people don’t like change. It can be frightening,” he said, adding a neighbour of the Manitoulin Island wind farm was invited by the company to talk to the Wind Watchers group at last week’s meeting. The man shared his experiences about how the nearby wind turbines impact his operation, which has six or seven horses, about 30 cattle and crops.
“Our hope was to take away some of the fears of the people adjacent to our (Innisfil) property. If and when (the wind farm is constructed), they’ll realize their fears were unfounded,” Lundy said.
Lundy described the meeting as “cordial and respectful,” adding, “I don’t think we thought we’d convince anybody to be supportive of Schneider Power. We’re trying to be responsible and tolerant of the fact that people don’t like change. We’re complying with every single law we have to,” he said.
“Most residents in the immediate area will attest to the fact that they have not been approached by Schneider Power about how they’ll be impacted,” Trombley said.
She has health and public safety concerns about the project, and is worried it will impact on nearby residents and businesses.
She refers to studies that suggest a minimum setback of at least 1.5 kilometres and up to two kilometres from the nearest residence is appropriate, adding that the Town of Caledon has put its setback regarding wind turbines at 500 metres.
In an e-mail to Trombley, Schneider spokesperson Sarah Raetsen said the company’s zoning bylaw amendment submitted to the Town of Innisfil in May indicates the minimum land use and setbacks would be 250 metres from on-site residences, 300 metres from off-site residences and 50 metres from lot lines.
Trombley doesn’t believe those distances are far enough away from the wind turbines.
During their meeting with MOE officials, Wind Watchers members were told they could request a full review and assessment of the project as well as a minister review. The group intends to request the reviews, Trombley said.
The officials also indicated that the ministry only has approval authority related to noise.
Lundy admitted that the turbines do make noise, but “neighbours will hear Highway 400, but they won’t hear our turbines.”
“The five turbines are not going to impact them in any way,” he added.
That doesn’t give any comfort to Trombley.
“I’m concerned about the sustain-ability of current businesses established in Innisfil which are actively making a contribution to the community,” she said. “I depend a lot on bird and insect populations, and there’s no specific research which addresses the impact or harm on insects and birds.”
Ontario residents are dealing with what German residents had to deal with 20 years ago, Lundy said.
“All the people that are upset with wind farms can co-exist with them with no harm coming to them,” he said. “We’ll continue to try and push the project forward. We’re waiting for the municipality to make some decisions. It will be in their camp shortly.”
Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson said Friday it’s important for town council and staff to get all the information they can to “make the best judgment we can. We’ll receive information from residents during a public meeting in September (which has yet to be scheduled) and forward their comments to staff.
“When the staff report is ready sometime in the fall, we’ll make a decision,” he said.
By Ian McInroy
29 July 2008
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