Since the inception of the Ontario government’s Green Energy Act in 2009, the jurisdiction over community development in the area of renewable energy projects has been removed from local municipalities.
The challenge of creating a local voice that is credible concerning the proposed wind farm planned for Meaford is significant.
To meet that challenge a wider debate on more substantive issues than the aesthetics of wind farms that your Oct. 25 article focussed on needs to take place. In that article the most important point raised was the need for us to learn from the experiences of those communities who are leaders in the field. In that regard, the European experience is invaluable.
Over the course of the last six to seven years countries on the leading edge of wind turbine use, specifically Denmark, the U.K., Germany and Spain have all withdrawn government subsidized programs to stimulate the growth of wind farms.
Moreover, some of those same countries are dismantling portions of their installations with no immediate plans to rebuild.
The reasons are remarkably similar from country to country. Wind generated electricity has proven to be unreliable in that production does not often match demand.
The variances of wind strength and direction causes electricity to be generated at times when user demand is low and thus it gets sold off as surplus.
The actual production levels of electricity in general are aver-a ged at around 20% of the capacity of wind farms which makes it fairly inefficient.
In Denmark there have been recorded months where electrical output has been zero. Finally, given the variability of electricity from wind farms, traditional electricity generating sites (like coal burning facilities) have been left on standby using fuel to maintain a usable state.
Consequently, there is little evidence that wind farms have decreased outputs of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.
In addition, we need to assess the more practical impacts for local communities.
Again we can look to European, U.S. and Canadian examples of wind farms where the environmental impacts of construction have been underestimated or overlooked.
Impact on the natural environment during operation such as disruption to migratory bird flights, destruction of natural habitat on the ground for some wildlife and abstract issues such as “oil slinging” and ice throws that have occurred from the blades of wind turbines.
Most important, the increasing evidence of negative human impact on residents close to installations due to prolonged exposure to low frequency noise from turbines. This is a subject currently being reviewed at conferences in our own province. Sadly, our provincial guidelines for setbacks that govern the distance for a residence from turbines, specifies about 1/3 of the recommended distances adopted in parts of Europe and the U.S.
It may seem odd at this point, but I am writing this note as one who wants to support renewable energy sources for the long term. I think that is achievable if done for the right reasons, in the right place in the right way. The Meaford proposal may be able to pass that test but the starting point for the debate has to be well beyond aesthetics.
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