CLEARVIEW TWP. – A crowd of about 350 people headed out onto County Road 91 Wednesday afternoon, on their way to tell a wind energy company they’re not welcome in the neighbourhood.
A steady stream of walkers, vehicles and tractors left Kevin Ellwood’s nursery business around 4:30 to travel the four kilometres into Stayner – and show up at the Stayner Recreational Centre where WPD was hosting an open house on their eight-turbine Fairview project.
“There has been a lack of consultation with the community,” said Ellwood, as he prepared to marshal the line-up of tractors and vehicles. “This was pre-planned… and you really don’t plan without the community.”
Ellwood also has an airstrip on his property, and according to WPD’s plans, a wind turbine will be erected right in the way. Collingwood Regional Airport officials are also complaining WPD intends to put several turbines within 1.4 nautical miles of that runway – which is too close for comfort, they say.
Ellwood also noted the province’s Green Energy Act has taken away the public’s right to be heard; part of Wednesday’s protest march was also to send a message to the provincial government.
John Laforet of Wind Concerns Ontario also spoke to the crowd before they headed out, telling them “it’s quite clear that turbines are not wanted in Clearview Township.
“This is a dying industry in Ontario, it is a dying industry globally,” he said, adding Clearview residents don’t want the wind turbines “not here, not now, not ever.”
He also attacked WPD for setting up a “sham meeting,” and claimed the company was trying to downplay the opposition to their project by stating it was merely weekenders who are against the plan.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Laforet. “There are farmers, weekend residents; this turnout shows the diversity of the community and its real strength.
“The majority (of Clearview) are here to say no, and we’re going to fight (WPD) off.”
Ellwood said there is a bit of NIMBYism to the opposition to wind turbines, but “when you look at all the negatives, there are more negatives than positives for the community as a whole.
“It’s not just for me, but also my neighbours.”
Two hours later, as representatives of WPD defended the project inside the Stayner Recreational Centre, those same protesters rallied outside against the “arrogance” of the company. At the same time, Ripley-area farmer Jutta Splettstoesser was trying to sell the crowd on the benefits of wind. With a banner, ‘Friends of Wind’ behind her, Splettstoesser had set out two tables with copies of reports and studies on the benefits of wind energy just outside the doors of the Stayner Recreation Centre.
“When I heard Wind Concerns Ontario was coming, I knew I had to be there, too, because people need to see there are two sides to this story,” she said. “I want to reach out to people. I want to be respectful, and people have to have an open mind.”
Splettstoesser has signed a lease with a wind energy company to have a turbine on her farm; that project has not yet gone ahead.
Having that lease, however, is not what motivates her, but the studies she has that show the relative cost of wind energy is cheaper than fossil or nuclear fuel when the expense of decommissioning those plants are factored in.
Kevin Surette, the manager of communications for WPD, said Wednesday’s open house is just one step in a “very prescriptive process.
The turbines would not be erected until 2013, he said, only after a lengthy approval process under Ministry of Environment guidelines and the rules under the Green Energy Act.
Surette also said the project does have support in the community.
“We have heard from individuals who are opposed, but we have also heard from people who support the project… and see the need to move beyond fossil fuels,” he said.
However, Surette acknowledged those folks may not be as vocal as people such as Splettstoesser because the debate over wind energy has become highly-charged and emotional.
“They may not be as vocal as Jutta, but they may see Jutta as providing reinforcement for those locally that someone is speaking out, and there is support out there,” he said.
He also noted some of the information that has gone out from those opposed to the project “is not based on this specific project,” and that when it came to siting the turbines, “a number of things have been taken into account.”
That includes appropriate setbacks from water courses, buildings, and woodlots.
Surette said the leases have been signed for the Fairview Project.
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