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Wind turbines unlikely to save planet

The Ontario government, as a result of the Green Energy Act 2009, is planning to erect industrial wind turbines in several sites across the province.

“Good”, we said. “It’s about time.” After all, we are in favour of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, and wanting to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. And wind is a free, renewable resource, so this is good for all of us, right?

Boy, were we naive.

The plan is for mega turbines – nearly 50 storeys high – that dwarf the turbines we currently see along the Great Lakes. Lots of them: on farmland, and possibly out in the lakes.

If they’re going to save the planet, you’d probably give them the thumbs up, wouldn’t you? Well, it doesn’t take much digging to see that they’re not likely to save the planet.

Wind energy isn’t very efficient, according to William Palmer, an engineer who has presented internationally on the subject. He says that, because the winds come and go, wind turbines work at an average of 27% capacity. What’s more, Ontario has no ability to store wind energy, so what we don’t use immediately is wasted. Storage facilities could be created – at great cost – in addition to the huge cost of the turbines themselves.

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t demur at the cost, but countries like Britain, well ahead of us in wind energy, are now having to face the stark reality of “fuel poverty” – the cost of fuel exceeding one’s ability to pay. So, if wind energy is going to be expensive and inefficient, we’d like to know before we open our hydro bill.

Adding insult to injury, according to Palmer, is the fact the net effect of wind turbines on global warming is insignificant. Why? Because most of Canada’s harmful emissions are not caused by electricity production, and because the fossil fuel systems needed to back up wind power lose their efficiency when they have to be started, stopped and restarted as winds come and go. Further, we are shocked to learn that, despite its tens of thousands of wind turbines, Germany, the poster child for wind energy, has yet to close a single coal-fired plant.

But wait – it gets worse. Globally, in 2008-09, there were 35 cases of blade failure (blades breaking off and hurtling to the ground). People have been killed by these things. Canada’s blade failure rate is already four times greater than in Europe – not surprising when you consider extreme weather is a contributing factor.

Blade failure and ice thrown from blades would not be as concerning if turbines were installed away from populated areas, as they tend to be in Europe. But the Green Energy Act of Ontario has allowed industrial wind turbines to be built as close as 550 meters from homes. The World Health Organization recommends 1.5 to 2 kilometres, but in Ontario, we will soon have the largest wind turbines in the world, combined with the shortest setback distances in the world.

This presents another set of problems. Dr. Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, says we really don’t know the long-term effects of wind turbines on human health. He says people all over the globe have reported ill effects, and the Ontario government is pushing its wind power plan through in the absence of conclusive research.

We think this is poor decision-making. Remember depo prevara, thalidomide, and UFFI?

Dr. Nina Pierpont, author of Wind Turbine Syndrome, says, “many people living within 2 km of these giants get . . . so sick that they . . . abandon (as in, lock the door and leave) their homes. Nobody wants to buy their acoustically toxic homes.” This process has become known as expropriation without compensation.

While we are sympathetic to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s plight, we’d like to see him do his homework. The wind energy campaign caters to that part of us that wants to believe it’s the right thing to do. Our son suffers from asthma – we’d love to see coal plants become a thing of the past. But the Ontario wind turbine plan is fraught with problems, We’d appreciate it if the government would at least be honest about what it’s getting us into. We don’t like being forced to buy a pig in a poke.

McGuinty says he’d like to be remembered as the education premier of Ontario. Let’s hope he’s not remembered as the premier who made us wiser but sadder.

Laurie Kay and Sandy Oswick are London residents.