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‘Green’ windmills have residents seeing red

Never before have so many people lived in cities. And never before have they been so sensitive to nature, especially here in the birthplace of Greenpeace and eco-density.

Egged on by the likes of Mayor Gregor Robertson, the bike-lane champion, and eco-guru David Suzuki, Vancouverites seem to have an almost irresistible urge to go green. After all, there are carbon emissions to be capped and a planet to be saved.

But in life, nothing is for free. And the green dream may well be more elusive than many of us had thought, especially when it comes to green energy . . . and especially when that energy is generated by wind power.

Just ask Garry and Donna Laveck who own a quarter section of land at the base of Bear Mountain near Dawson Creek, where they run a breeding and training ranch for quarter horses.

It was their retirement dream. That is until they found themselves within spitting distance of the Bear Mountain Wind Project, B.C.’s first and only operational wind farm, which has been up and running for more than a year on Crown land adjacent to the Lavecks.

It consists of 34 huge wind turbines that seem to hover over them like a “whirling picket fence,” Garry says.

Now, some folks, especially those who look up at the one atop Grouse Mountain, may think wind turbines are futuristic looking and esthetically pleasing. But not the Lavecks.

They say these giant modern windmills are desecrating a majestic mountain view, driving away bats, birds and other wildlife and driving down the value of the property they’ve called home for 19 years.

Indeed, they dislike almost everything about the turbines, from their strange noise to their red, nighttime lights and the flickering of the sun’s rays as they filter through their 40-metre-long blades.

“Most of the time [the noise] is like a pulsing jet plane that never leaves . . . then sometimes it’s just a constant kind of a rumble,” Garry told me. “Yeah, it’s very annoying. Even when it’s not very loud, it’s not nice to be around.”

Garry, an equipment operator for the local road contractor, insisted he is environmentally conscious. His father was a farmer for 50 years, and he believes we should take care of the Earth, as it takes care of us.

“But as for this green push, I hate it,” he said. “It’s just greenwashing. I think it’s an absolute waste of money and time . . . All they’re doing is dealing out a whole pile of cash to whoever calls something green, it doesn’t matter what it is.”

AltaGas, the Calgary-based operator of the wind farm, offered to buy the Lavecks out. But Garry wonders where he would go: “I’m 55, I don’t care to start all over again.” Besides, he added, there is no place like home.

Now, you may think this is all so much NIMBYISM. And certainly the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association didn’t seem very sympathetic Tuesday to the Lavecks’ plight.

“There are people who are ideologically opposed to wind power,” said president Guy Dauncey. “And those people seize any opportunity to find fault in something.”

Dauncey dismissed the Lavecks’ concerns about bird kills, saying the average wind turbine had been found statistically to kill about one bird per year.

“Highrise buildings with office lights in the windows at night kill far more birds than that, let alone cars,” he told me. “But no one suggests that we don’t have office buildings and we don’t have cars.”

As for the supposed ugliness of wind farms, Dauncey said it all depends on your outlook on the future.

“When I see wind turbines spinning, I say, ‘Thank God, someone is looking after our grandchildren’s future.’ When I see a coal-fired power plant, I think, ‘Oh my God, that’s the cause of future enormous problems.’ We do need to stop burning coal for our energy.”

AltaGas said Tuesday that the Bear Mountain project had been subjected to extensive environmental assessment that included “social components.” The company noted that renewable energy, such as wind, fitted in with its strategy of “investing in high-quality assets that create, move and hold energy.”

Wind energy, of course, is far more prevalent in Europe than in Canada. But there’s growing resistance to it there, especially in Britain, and especially from those who have to live near the wind farms themselves.

Myself, I think we should tread extremely warily before approving any more of them in B.C. – just as we would any other potentially troublesome industrial venture.