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Wal-Mart’s green energy turbines leave some Burlington residents seeing red

A proposal by Wal-Mart to add a wind turbine to its environmental demonstration store in Burlington is drawing criticism from local residents worried about everything from the turbine’s effects on health and wildlife to potential for reduced property values and running afoul of the city’s sign bylaw.

It has even become a municipal election issue.

“Wal-Mart is always contentious,” said Coun. Peter Thoem, who is running in Ward 2.

Residents were taken by surprise when a public notice proposing installation of the wind turbine appeared Sept. 22 in the Burlington Post.

“I’m so upset that a company is planning to decide the fate of my health and well-being–without so much as a public forum or consultation. It is outrageous, shocking and heart-breaking,” said Jackie Jones, who noted she lives and works within a kilometre of the Wal-Mart.

“It seems that Wal-Mart has moved ahead with this proposal without any public awareness and in a somewhat clandestine manner, choosing only to publicize it because the ministry requires it,” said Ward 2 candidate Dave Bedini.

However, the whole reason for the notice was “for us to give a heads-up to the local community in the towns of Burlington and Milton,” where an identical turbine is also proposed, said Karin Campbell, Wal-Mart manager of corporate affairs.

Thoem is not convinced, saying, “Many residents agree that this project is more about high-visibility signage than energy conservation.

“It is a 20-kilowatt wind energy project, enough to power 20 toasters – when the wind is blowing. But it’s not in an area known for reliable winds,” he added.

“If it’s already low-wind, imagine what’s going to happen when you put up two large high-rises on either side of it. It’s going to reduce the wind down to zero,” said John Lawson, property manager for Emshih Developments, which is proposing an apartment building for the property next door. A vacant lot on Wal-Mart’s opposite side is also zoned to allow for high-rise, high-density apartments.

“Putting up a large windmill right next to our property not only will reduce the marketability of a future project but also would decrease the land value because of what the property is allowed to do and won’t be able to do,” he added.

Wal-Mart “says there are no residential (properties) in the area… They’re only seeing what they see out their window,” he added. “They are not looking at the zoning allowances of the neighbouring property.”

Thoem has other issues with the proposal. “The bigger concern is this: Is this the thin end of the wedge? Is this how big-box retailers are going to move forward, taking advantage of the Green Energy Act to get around the municipal approval process, bringing some of the health and safety issues that surround windmills into our urban areas?” he asks.

“If it were anyone but Wal-Mart, attitudes might be different,” said Ward 2 candidate Shannon Gillies. “It’s not up to us to tell Wal-Mart to use solar panels instead, even if that’s what we think.”

The turbines are the first at Wal-Mart stores in Canada and the company hopes to have them running by the end of the year. It also has plans for a solar power test project at a site yet to be named.