STAYNER – An open house hosted by Wpd Canada regarding its proposal to erect eight wind turbines just west of Stayner attracted several hundred people late Wednesday afternoon.
The majority of those that attended the session, held at the Stayner Community Centre, were against the project.
At roughly 500 feet high, people said the turbines would be too tall and imposing on families living in the area.
They also raised concerns about the turbines negatively impacting property values and causing health problems with people.
Colin Huismans, a spokesperson for Clearview WAIT, a group that’s against the turbine proposal, estimated roughly 700 people attended the open house.
He said the majority met at Clearview Nursery on County Road 91 and took part in a caravan to the community centre.
“We had manure spreaders, tractors, loaders, we had people on all manner of things, from little garden tractors to colossal-sized tractors,” he said. “We had a number of objectives behind coming here together. History has told me in my attendance of these open houses that they aren’t meetings for the people; they are meetings for the developer. And our initial objective was to sort of hijack this meeting so the developer gets a clear message that they aren’t welcomed in this community.”
Kevin Surette, a spokesperson for Wpd, said he understands people have different opinions on wind turbines.
“It’s important both sides get to air their points of view and that’s what we see this open house as fulfilling,” he said.
Surette said that for Wpd, the open house represented the first opportunity to really introduce the project to the community.
“For us we’re able to tell them where we are at in the process and tell them what they can expect going forward,” he said.
Right now, Wpd is in the study and consultation phase.
“Those studies will be ongoing throughout the summer and into a little bit of the fall,” Surette said. “Those reports will become available we’re hoping towards the end of the fall. And they will become available for public comment. We’ll be providing 60 days notice and that 60 days notice will also let people know what date the final open house will be.”
Following that process, Wpd said it will submit the application for its project – officially known as the Fairview Wind Farm – to the province.
“They take a certain amount of time to review all of that material and they decide whether we get to proceed with the project,” Surette said. “We are anticipating if we get our application in by early winter we would hear something back from them in the summer of 2012. At that point we’d be looking at beginning construction. So sometime mid-summer of 2012 with a commercial operation date of spring 2013.”
Surette noted that Wpd understands the concerns people have and that the company takes these issues seriously.
In terms of health concerns, he said Wpd has looked at “published, scientific, peer-reviewed information that’s out there and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health just last year published a report where she took a look at all the available…information and she concluded there was no direct link between adverse health effects and wind turbines.”
The impact that turbines would have on property values has also been looked at.
“The studies we look at and that we have available tonight are studies based on scientific, statistical models,” he said. “Although individual homes may vary – cumulatively a wind farm does not have an overall effect on property values.”
The Collingwood Regional Airport, located to the north of where the turbines will be situated, if the project is allowed to go ahead, has raised its own concerns.
Airport officials say the turbines would create a safety problem for planes taking off and landing and note the turbines would limit the airport’s ability to expand.
At a press conference at the airport Wednesday morning, Charles Cormier, an aviation consultant working for the airport, echoed the opinion of airport officials.
However, Wpd said its own aviation expert examined the situation and ruled out any safety issues.
“So we are very confident that our [turbine] layout is safe,” Surette said.
But Charlie Tatham, chair of the airport services board, speaking at the press conference Wednesday, called placing the turbines next to the airport “loony”, especially considering the airport is one of the busiest small airports in Southern Ontario.
Councillor Doug Measures, representing the Township of Clearview; Deputy-Mayor Rick Lloyd, representing the Town of Collingwood and Councillor George Watson, representing the Town of Wasaga Beach, echoed Tatham.
Lisa Little, who lives just north of Stayner on Highway 26, was at the Wpd open house on Wednesday afternoon in support of friends who live near the proposed site.
“I don’t think enough information was given out prior to this,” she said. “The people should have had more opportunity to have a say about what goes on in their community. I think it was shoved down everyone’s throat and by the time we found out about it, well it was already a signed contract. There’s nothing we can do to stop it from happening or change the location.”
Little said the turbines should not be situated on prime agricultural land.
“They should be put in an area where nobody lives so they don’t interfere with anyone.”
Denise Sefranka-Hoskin, a Wasaga Beach resident at the meeting, said the turbines would be invasive.
Thom Paterson, a Clearview Township municipal councillor, took part in the caravan from Clearview Nursery to the Stayner Community Centre and said there are a number of reasons people don’t like the proposal.
“One is the process,” he said. “The fact the municipality is left out of the approval process.”
Another beef is the fact the province is subsidizing wind turbine development.
“Spending money to make it happen bothers people,” he said. “And it doesn’t get rid of our reliance on coal. So you are subsidizing the generation of a marginal alternative energy.”
Paterson added the turbines shouldn’t be situated on prime agricultural land.
Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario and a part-time resident in Dunedin, said he attended the meeting to hear people’s concerns.
“We’ve for quite a while now expressed our concerns with how the Liberal Party has rolled out the Green Energy Act,” he said. “The main concern I have is the stripping of local decision-making.”
Schreiner said that a community participation process and a local decision-making process regarding these types of projects are essential.
“I also have concerns about the Conservatives’ approach, which is let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater and kill green energy,” he said. “I think we can move forward with green energy in a way that supports communities.”
He added that turbines do have a place in rural Ontario if people want them.
“But I don’t think you can impose it on people and I have some grave concerns about the fact that most of the contracts – if not all – are going to large multi-national corporations.”
The only true pro-wind person The Sun found at the open house – aside from Wpd representatives – was Jutta Splettstoesser, a mother of four from Kincardine, Ont.
She and her husband raise pigs and cash crop. They also have solar panels on their barn and would like to have a wind turbine.
“I always as a farmer use my logic and long-term planning,” she said. “And I can see that wind will be the cheapest energy source for our future.”
Splettstoesser said she attends such controversial meetings as the one in Stayner in order to have a dialogue about wind.
“I want to be respectful. I want rational, democratic discussions,” she said. “And that’s why today I chose not to wear a button or T-shirt, because I understand some people are offended.”
Wpd’s Kevin Surette noted that all public feedback the company gets must be submitted with the its application to the province.