For the Irwin family, who moved to Manvers Township to get away from wind turbines, news that several could be installed near their new home was not exactly welcome.
“We would never have moved here,” said Tammy Irwin, adding that they thought they were safe from wind turbine projects because of their new proximity to the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Her husband Darryl’s family had been living on the same farm in Ripley, ON for 135 years, before they decided to move to this area just under three years ago.
“We’re to the point up there that we will be completely surrounded in the next year or so if these turbine developments continue,” Mr. Irwin said of the 38 existing Enercon E-82 wind turbines, and the 50 proposed new and bigger turbines in Ripley.
The couple and their twin three-year-old boys had lived in Manvers Township for less than a year when the projects were proposed.
“If we allow 15, or even five [wind turbines], it will grow exponentially. It just opens the door to them,” Mr. Irwin said.
“It feels like you are standing in the middle of a railroad track with a train coming,” he added.
Mitch Twolan, mayor of the Township of Huron-Kinloss of which Ripley is included, said he has been dealing with the wind turbine issue for the past six years, from when the turbines were first proposed. Living on the shores of Lake Huron, the winds in the area are ideal to maximize wind turbine output, he said.
He said he has been “inundated,” with feedback from the community, mostly negative.
Because his community was among the first large-scale wind turbine projects in the province, Mayor Twolan said he almost feels as though they were used as “Guinea pigs.”
“The biggest concern we have as a municipality is we have no say in this,” he said.
“It just skips the municipal and council levels. We didn’t have a choice. It’s frustrating.”
Mayor Twolan said a lot of his constituents were initially enthusiastic about the wind turbine projects.
“At the time, for our agricultural community, it was a very difficult time, so it was some additional income coming into our agricultural community,” he said, noting incentives to get on board.
At the time the wind turbines were installed in Ripley in 2007, before the Green Energy Act came into play, the minimum setback distance of 550 m was not in place, he explained, so the setbacks of the turbines in Ripley vary, but are mostly in the range of 450 m.
Mr. Irwin said that within about six months of the turbines going in, he began to hear about negative health effects in the community. He estimates that he knows of at least 20 cases of severe symptoms, with many others effected to a lesser degree.
“People were suffering migraines, dizziness, nausea and heart palpitations due to low frequency sound and infrasound,” Mr. Irwin said.
His wife added that the effects seem to be worse for women.
“I don’t wish this on my worst enemies. When people can’t be in their homes and are sleep deprived, that is a major issue,” Mr. Irwin said.
Beyond the effects they know of now, the Irwins question what the long-term health consequences of these developments will be down the road.
“The big issue is that we are building these so fast and so fierce, without the proper health studies being done,” he said.
Once he became concerned and started doing research, Mr. Irwin said he became aware of similar issues coming out of Europe where there are wind turbine developments. His concern is also deepened by the fact that the proposed turbines in Manvers would be even bigger than those installed in Ripley, compounding the problem, Mr. Irwin said.
He said he is particularly concerned about the health concerns given that the proposed wind turbine projects are so close to Rolling Hills P.S. and Grandview P.S. where he was planning on sending his children to school once they came of age.
“We’re going to have to seriously look at having our children bused to Peterborough,” Mr. Irwin said.
“It’s sad, I was really looking forward to having my children go to a country school, right up the road,” Mrs. Irwin added.
As for health concerns, Mayor Twolan said there have been several delegations to his council concerned about those issues as several families that he knows of have been displaced from their homes. He said Bruce County has teamed up with neighbouring Grey County and the local Health Unit to try and get a health study done to assess the health effects of living near wind turbine projects.
Mr. Irwin also included stray voltage killing farm animals among his list of concerns, however Mayor Twolan said to the best of his knowledge such claims were rumours that he could not confirm. Mr. Irwin claims to know of at least three cases in which the wind turbine company – Suncor – have actually gone as far as purchasing people’s homes who have suffered health effects and made them sign contracts to silence those who may want to share their experience with others. Mr. Twolan said he had heard the same rumour, but again had no confirmation of it as fact.
Mr. Irwin also takes issue with what he calls the sneaky tactics of wind companies, who he says are “checker-boarding,” by breaking up the proposed project area into three parts with one company proposing projects on each end and a second company proposing a project in the middle. He said this means that because the projects are broken up (though not geographically), they can get away with a 550 m setback rather than a 750 m setback called for in more heavily saturated areas.
He also took issue with tactics used by Energy Farming Ontario Ltd. – who have two of the three proposed projects. At its first public meeting community members had to sign in and were video taped. He also didn’t like the fact that people could not ask questions personally, but instead had to put them in writing with their name and address.
“It’s gross intimidation,” he said.
Mr. Irwin said all these concerns could be addressed by simply increasing the setback distance to something comparable to what Europe has – 2 km. – where they have had wind turbines for much longer than here in Canada.
He added that if the proposed turbines were smaller, less people would be concerned about the negative effects of living nearby.
Mayor Twolan admits that during the construction phase of the $176 million project, it was good for the local community and boosted the economy with construction workers eating at local restaurants and spending their money within the community, however that was only short-term.
“These turbines don’t create jobs in the community,” he said adding that only a few maintenance jobs remain.
He also added that he doesn’t think the wind turbine project has boosted tourism in the area either.
“We’re cottage country here, so we have a big issue with property values,” Mayor Twolan said.
And although the mayor said it has been a big building year for residential houses in his area, thanks to nearby Bruce Power, in the long-run he foresees wind turbines hurting growth in the area.
“They are going to – in my estimation – sterilize the development in this area for 40 or 50 years,” he said.
“Definitely there have been issues about people not choosing to build here until they see what happens with the turbines,” he added later.
Mayor Twolan was careful not too blame Suncor. the company responsible for the wind turbines.
“All they’ve done is followed the guidelines put before them,” he said.
“They’re not in here, per se, to destroy the community.”
In terms of advice he would offer to other communities like Kawartha Lakes who are at the beginning of the process he said, “I’d be warning people to be very cautious.”
To be a part of the solution, Mr. Irwin said he plans to continue to try to educate his neighbours and the public and push back against a system he doesn’t agree with.
“I’m going to continue to fight the process until the Liberal government agrees to an independent health study or appropriate setbacks.”
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