Whatever the reasons, the gloves are off in the fight for and against industrial-scale wind turbines, but the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is urging its membership to work closely with communities to gain back a broad base of public support and the Ontario Government is forging ahead in its support of the turbines as a key element in a greener energy future.
The provincial commitment is evidenced by a Long Term Energy Plan announced Tuesday. Although nuclear energy would provide 50% of electricity under the new plan, wind, solar and biomass sources would provide 18%, with most of it from wind.
Perhaps nowhere is the fight more visible than here in Dufferin County, where a group calling itself Whittington Coalition for our Right to a Healthy Environment (WCORHE) has organized a second protest parade from Orangeville’s Rotary Park along Second Avenue and Broadway to MPP Sylvia Jones’s office at 10 a.m. this Saturday.
Oddly, perhaps, what is turning into a major issue locally is born out of a relatively minor installation, at least in respect of scale. But it has raised a number of considerations, not the least of which might be the adequacy of setbacks as defined under the Green Energy Act (GEA).
Betsy Collin, whose million dollar residence on the Mono-Amaranth Townline would fall under the shadow of the three 2.3-megawatt turbines in Amaranth, questions the GEA’s standard minimum setback of 550-metres without reference to the size of the turbine.
It isn’t the first time the role of the GEA has come under scrutiny in Dufferin. Not long ago, Melancthon council learned of a farmer’s co-operative by way of a news release from the proponent.
It is the sort of thing that CanWEA president Robert Hornung says shouldn’t happen. The GEA, he said, “does clearly contain requirements and provisions,” he said, but those are the minimum standards of engaging in consultation.
To overcome that problem, CanWEA has been drafting a document, Best Practises for Community Engagement and Consultation, a principle of which would be to “consult early and often.”
Consultation, however, is not going to overcome perceptions of adverse health effects from industrial wind farms, the other thrust of WCORHE’s opposition to the Whittington project’s setbacks, and Wind Concerns Ontario’s (WCO) opposition generally.
CanWEA, along with its U.S. counterpart, a year ago had established a seven-member panel, including experts in the fields of medicine, audiology, acoustics, environmental and public health from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Denmark.
That panel, in a report co-authored by Dr. Robert McCunney, based on a review of a large body of scientific literature on sound and health effects, and specifically with regard to sound produced by wind turbines, concluded that sounds or vibrations emitted from wind turbines have no adverse effect on human health.
“The panel’s multi-disciplinary approach helped to fully explore the many published scientific reports related to the potential impact of wind turbines on people’s health,” said Dr. McCunney, an occupational/ environmental medicine physician and research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“There is no evidence that the sounds, nor the sub-audible vibrations, emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects on humans.”
More recently, a WCOsponsored panel conducted what it called The First International Symposium on the Global Wind Industry and Adverse Health Effects in Picton, Ontario.
“It brought together American, British and Canadian acousticians, physicists, physicians, and medical researchers. The audience came from across Ontario and the United States and from as far as Australia,” says WCO.
Briefly stated, that panel disagreed with almost all the findings of the one assembled by CanWEA.
Now, if WCO can’t win on the battlefield of health it will fight on the financial and political fronts. In a harshly worded letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, WCO president John Laforet says: “Over 70 municipalities across Ontario, representing more than two million people that have moved motions of moratorium in support of Wind Concerns Ontario’s position are being ignored.
“The government is already being sued over the Green Energy Act, and now you’re setting yourself up to be defeated at the polls because of it.
“We are developing a list of vulnerable rural ridings held by your party for our members to target in 2011 if your government continues to ignore these 70 municipalities and Wind Concerns Ontario members concerns.” Mr. Laforet said.
WCO and its allies, meantime, are circulating a study by one professional engineer, William Palmer, which says Ontario householders cold be faced with increases in electricity costs of about $4,000 annually.
Under Tuesday’s LTEP, home energy costs are expected to rise by 3.5% annually over the next 20 years – effectively doubling them – and industrial costs would rise by 2.7% yearly in the same period.
The Palmer study says the cost to the Ontario economy “will be at least $14 billion per year and will have a significant adverse impact on the Ontario economy and cause widespread hardship.”
But CanWEA views it differently. “Wind energy’s growing contribution to Ontario’s electricity supply is already creating jobs and economic opportunities for manufacturers, service providers, landowners and rural municipalities in Ontario,” said Mr. Hornung.
“Surveys have indicated that there are currently more than 1,300 people employed full-time directly in wind energy in Ontario, thanks to the Green Energy Act – and studies have indicated that for every new direct job there are two indirect jobs created. We have only begun to scratch the surface in terms of potential for new jobs and investment.”
CanWEA says every 1,000 MW of newly installed wind generation capacity represents approximately $2.75 billion in private sector investment, 1,000 new jobs, and enough electricity to power 300,000 Canadian homes. It claims it also provides a minimum of $3 million in annual lease payments for farmers and other rural landowners, as well as a similar amount in new taxes for rural municipalities.
However, opponents note that municipalities could actually lose tax revenue because of the combination of a $40,000 cap per megawatt on the turbines’ assessments and lowered assessments on nearby farm and residential properties.
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