DRAYTON – NextEra Energy officials were not surprised by a huge protest that greeted them at the company’s second public meeting last week at the PMD Arena.
Hundreds of people on Nov. 30 packed the arena parking lot and community hall, where a large sign reading “Welcome to NextEra’s Farewell Party” greeted visitors.
“We respect everyone’s right to have their voice heard,” NextEra project manager Nicole Geneau told the Wellington Advertiser. “We’re going to do our best to make sure this [meeting] is productive … we’ll listen.”
Outside, where protestors gathered in the rain to oppose the company’s plan for a 10-turbine, 23-megawatt wind farm southwest of Arthur, the mood was less conciliatory.
“This foreign-owned company is risking the health of your community to generate electricity in a way that isn’t safe under the regulations of our province,” Wind Concerns Ontario president John Laforet told the crowd.
But both sides acknowledged much of the displeasure at the meeting was aimed at Dalton McGuinty, Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson (also the Minister of the Environment) and the Liberal party’s Green Energy Act, which takes away input from local municipalities.
“This is a province-wide issue, and guys like John Wilkinson have to listen to us,” Laforet said. “John Wilkinson’s not here tonight because he’s not listening to your community; he’s listening to bureaucrats in downtown Toronto who are saying they know best and their friends from Florida [NextEra] have great plans, whether you like them or not.”
Bill Kabbes, a Mapleton resident who emceed the presentation outside, told gatherers, “This township is worth it,” and encouraged everyone to complain to their MPP.
“When you see John Wilkinson, give him our regards and tell him, ‘We won’t stand for this bulls—-,’” Kabbes said.
But John Krul, whose family has two farming properties on either side of the proposed NextEra project, said Wilkinson’s constituency offices will not answer any questions on the matter, and the MPP does not reply to messages.
“What’s happened to democracy?” asked Krul, a protest organizer and member of the Stop Mapleton Wind Farms group.
Randy Pettapiece, recently elected as the Perth-Wellington PC candidate who will face Wilkinson in next fall’s election, said his party disagrees with removing power from local municipalities.
“They should have a choice,” Pettapiece said. He added energy in general, and specifically the Green Energy Act, will be huge issues in the election.
“I think people are concerned … and they deserve answers,” he said.
NextEra Energy officials fielded hundreds of questions at the meeting, ranging from logistics to turbine layout to possible health concerns. The company says there will be no adverse health effects as a result of its project, and several spokespersons could be overheard at the meeting pointing out the company has 9,000 wind turbines in operation across the continent and has not had one proven health concern.
Yet that was little comfort to Shannon Rus, of Belwood, who is worried about the possible effects on her 2-year-old daughter, who has epilepsy. Another wind farm is being proposed near her family’s farm, and she says the effects of shadow flicker can reach distances of over 4km.
“How can these people sleep at night knowing they’re harming children? They don’t care, it’s all about money,” Rus said. “I don’t want my child to be the guinea pig.”
Information boards at the meeting stated “the maximum real-case shadow flicker for a non-participating receptor is up to 13.8 hours per year … If needed, [shadow flicker] can be mitigated in various ways including, but not limited to, planting of trees and adding shades to windows.”
Lorrie Gillis, a representative of WindVoice who carried a sign stating “You don’t get used to it, you get sick,” said health concerns are legitimate.
“We will not allow government ministries to plow ahead with policies that hurt people anymore,” she said from the stage outside. “We will not give up our health, our homes and our future for the wind industry’s profits and for government image anymore.”
Mapleton councillor Jim Curry talked to the crowd in-depth about the alleged health impacts associated with wind turbines. He said the minimum setback from residences should be 1.5km, as stated by the World Health Organization, and not the 550 metres set by the province.
Curry highlighted a NextEra report that says there will be “minor irritation to some residents” living on non-leased properties, and added, “You know if they’re saying minor, it’s going to be a whole lot more than minor.”
He refuted NextEra statements that “vibrations produced by wind turbines do not pose a health risk” and “sub-audible, low frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines do not present a risk” to human health.
“I am a NIMBI … Not in Mapleton’s best interest; that is my stance,” Curry told the crowd. “I will continue to fight at the local, county, and provincial levels to make sure that anything that is not clean and is not safe, and is not healthy, does not happen.”
Geneau said NextEra brought in an expert specifically to answer questions on the stray voltage issue, and stressed again the company has not had any proven cases of adverse health effects.
“If there is a concern or issue, we will address it,” she said. “We take all concerns very seriously.”
Geneau said she received some comments from residents who are concerned their property values may decrease as a result of the wind farm, but she noted studies confirm that does not occur.
NextEra touted wind energy as a way to “stabilize the cost of power,” despite a recent Ontario government announcement that investments in renewable energy will cause electricity prices to rise by 46% over the next five years.
Geneau and other NextEra officials at the meeting explained wind farms decentralize power production, offer domestically produced power and require no fuel cost.
“I’m still concerned,” Krul said near the end of the meeting after hearing everything both sides had to offer. He explained the Stop Mapleton Wind Farms group will submit a formal draft report as part of the process and will also attend other protests in and around Wellington County.
“We’re all in this together,” he said of those living near wind turbines.
By the end of this month, NextEra officials plan to finalize the project layout, finish all reports and submit a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) application to the MOE.
Once that is complete, the MOE will post a “notice of filling” on its registry and formally invite public comment. The MOE could take up to six months to review the proposal before issuing a decision.
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