Although I believe in finding green sources of energy I am deeply concerned about the preservation of the natural landscape, our greatest resource, especially in areas of scenic beauty and scientific importance. Unfortunately the Silcote Corners Wind Project pits one against the other.
In an attempt to learn more about wind turbines I wrote to a scientist in New Zealand who knows a great deal about them. I would like to share the information he has sent me with your readers.
Dr. Kelvin ( “Kelly”) Duncan, former dean of science at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, now director of Duncan Consultancies Limited (and several other companies) is engaged in seeking ecologically benign technological solutions to environmental problems. He is frequently consulted by industry and community groups to appear before the environmental court on environmental issues. He has not lost a case yet.
This is what he writes:
“The cost of wind generated power is highest of all major forms of generation, and is not economic without subsidies or coercion. It costs 38 NZ cents plus per unit without set up and decommissioning costs taken into account. No-one takes into account end-of-life costs, unlike most other forms of generation. Germany is starting to tax wind power as there has been widespread opposition on visual, environmental and economic grounds. Eastern European countries are also starting to tax biofuels.
“Wind turbines are not economic and they kill birds, especially raptors. Variable supply is a problem with wind technology. They make a two-bladed turbine that doesn’t need turning off. We have hydro, geothermal and wind generators in NZ. The first two are very easy to control, so we don’t have the problem of variable supply. We also have one coal station in the country, but it is rarely fired up. We are also experimenting with feeding household surplus generation back into the grid and getting aid for it.
“I think wind turbines are immensely ugly and intrusive. And what’s more – they move in a mechanical, vaguely threatening manner. The appearance of landscape is important, and they destroy landscapes. Huge wind-powered generators do obtrude and draw attention to themselves. Traditional wind mills were small, unobtrusive, and had a shape that was much more pleasing in appearance than today’s mindlessly moving metallic monsters set on a skinny pole. That is why it is aesthetically sensitive people who oppose them. There is a big reaction against them in Germany – the Germans love their beautiful, close-grained landscape. A number of similar developments have been halted in New Zealand by a consortium of poets, artists and others.
Calcium leaches from the concrete bases on sensitive, native plants. Much of Canada has soils of glacial origin that are recent, young and often thin, acidic but nutrient rich. Such soils have plants adapted to these conditions. Wind farms must have enormously large blocks of concrete sunk into the ground to hold up the towers which will impede drainage, and affect soil nutrient composition through the leaching of (mainly) calcium from the concrete as the block weathers and ages. The edge effect will show up as a damper, richer area invaded by neutral-or alkali-loving weeds that could grow out from these modified sites to choke the acid-loving native plants.
“One of my teams is looking at wood-plastic composite thermal capture panels that would supply and store abundant hot water even during winter at latitudes less than 50 degrees. It looks as though we will complete the technology in China. Bill Chan, who works in California, has developed a very efficient solar panel. We are being asked to look at butanol made from non-crop lignocellulosics. This could provide vast amounts of a fuel that can substitute very well for petrol and diesel. So there is a hope for a reduced C future. The other ecologically sound technology that is well advanced in Italy, Japan and NZ is geothermal. Any place where you can get access to hot rocks (which is almost anywhere) can be developed.
“If the Ontario Liberals are green and serious then they should look at lignocellulosic biofuels (not corn or wheat as these are in short supply – Jerusalem artichokes are good). We are also working with a group who have extracted more energy from internal combustion engines using relatively cheap convertor.”
Dr. Duncan has a great sense of humour and his inventiveness never shuts down. He writes “We have had over 3,000 after shocks following the gigantic earthquake. Some have been as large as 4.9 and 5.1. We are all blasé now. Did I tell you that during that interminable episode when I was being tossed like a leaf in a storm by the quake I had two thoughts: people pay good money for experiences like this in fun fairs, and how do I harness this energy? I later found out it was equivalent to 69 Hiroshima-type atom bombs going off. So that will be the next answer – geothermal generation.”
In addition to this correspondence, I have had conversations with several individuals who have experience with wind turbines. Doug Gowanlock, council member in Paisley, told me that the council there fought them off successfully in part to preserve the natural landscape for the tourist industry. Prof. Sarah Parsons of York University told me about the disgusting heaps of dead birds that pile up under the wind turbine installation on Amherst Island near Kingston. As the Balaclava area is famous as a location for seeing swooping turkey vultures, hawks and owls which nest in the barns and woods of Balaclava, the prospect of carnage is very great. We have two colonies of bats at our farm in Balaclava.
The late Dr. Walter Tovell, geologist and one-time director of the Royal Ontario Museum, told us that Silcote Corners and Balaclava were considered for designation as a provincial ANSI (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) because they preserve the best evidence (outside the tank range) of the ancestral Great Lakes shorelines. Silcote sits on top of the ancient shore-l ine of ancestral Lake Algonquin, and Balaclava on ancestral Lake Nipissing, the grandfather and father of Lake Huron respectively.
The spectacular views of Georgian Bay seen from the south side of the Sound have brought high-end residential development and much-needed investment and tax revenue into the area. Residential development has been compatible with the agricultural base and has raised the value of agricultural land with scenic views. The very special community that has resulted has given birth to creative and enterprising endeavours including the summer music festival at Historic Leith Church, the Sweetwater Music Festival and the Coffin Ridge Winery located right below Silcote Corners.
The installation of 26 wind turbines could threaten all of this and reduce residential property values from 20-40% in exchange for a mere drop in the bucket as far as Ontario’s energy needs go.
It is heartening to note that for once our representatives at all three levels of government are opposed.
While there are increasingly discrete methods of creating green energy being developed, no more areas of scenic beauty are being created. Let us ensure that we do not destroy this one.
Dr. Katharine Lochnan
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