KINCARDINE – Standing beside her solar paneled roof, with fields of soybeans stretching across the Bruce County countryside, Jutta Splettstoesser explains her commitment to wind energy.
A few miles north, standing in front of the wind turbine that she says has destroyed her health, Norma Schmidt explains her determination to halt wind power in its tracks.
It’s an issue that pits neighbour against neighbour, Liberals against the opposition parties and, those who get money from the turbines against those who don’t.
And in a close election, it could tip enough votes in some rural ridings to make the difference between winning and losing.
At stake is the future of the Liberals’ Green Energy Act, which has given Ontario a strong push toward renewable energy. The Conservatives say they’d gut it; the New Democrats would significantly change it.
Those stakes have brought activists like Splettstoesser and Schmidt out on the campaign trail, waging a battle over the future of wind turbines up and down the concession roads of rural Ontario.
The anti-wind forces have coalesced around Wind Concerns Ontario, headed by John Laforet – a Scarborough resident who came to the issue fighting Toronto’s Hydro’s proposal to plant turbines in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs.
“We’ve made this a defining issue in rural Ontario,” claims Laforet, who has been barnstorming the province for weeks asking voters to throw out the Liberals and the Green Energy Act.
Laforet says turbines produce power that’s expensive and unreliable. He says it hurts wildlife and makes people sick.
Wind projects have stirred protest in areas scattered across the province – on Wolfe Island, near Kingston; in Prince Edward County; in the highlands of Dufferin County; and along the Lake Huron shoreline.
Opposition to offshore wind developments spooked the Liberals into slapping a moratorium on turbines in the Great Lakes.
His tour has brought him to Schmidt’s home in Underwood, just north of Lake Huron.
Although the turbines screened from view by the trees Schmidt and her husband have planted, she knows exactly how many are there, where: The closest is 453 metres. Six turbines stand within one kilometre, 26 within three kilometres
Schmidt says when she’s at home she can’t sleep, has migraines, feels dizzy and nauseous, and often vomits.
She has come top the conclusion the only solution is to move, but asks:
“Why should I have to leave home so big companies can make a lot of money?”
Like Laforet, she wants turbine development halted until they’re proven safe.
While the anti-wind forces are vocal and organized, supporters of wind power are also mobilizing.
Jutta Splettstoesser, who farms with her husband Ralph near Kincardine, formed Friends of Wind Ontario with a handful of like-minded people when she became alarmed at the attacks on what she considers a valuable form of renewable energy.
“I’m a full time farmer that was tired of driving around on the shore of Lake Huron and seeing all these anti-wind turbine signs,” she explains.
Splettstoesser, who immigrated from Germany 20 years ago, says European farmers have lived in harmony with wind turbines for decades.
She has no direct stake in the wind industry. The Splettstoessers have no turbine of their own; they play their part in renewable energy through two solar installations: One on a barn roof, another in a distant field.
They raise crops on 250 acres, and are just getting out of the business of raising pigs because of low pork prices and high feed prices.
Splettstoesser says she got fed up seeing anti-wind signs posted up and down the roads.
“The Green Energy Act has its flaws, but we truly believe most Ontarians support it,” she insists.
“I’m not going to sit back and see a loud minority make decisions.”
Her support for green energy is largely ethical:
“We are all just visitors on earth and we should behave like it,” she says. “Even if you don’t believe in climate change, use some common sense and use our limited resources respectfully. What gives us the right to use coal, oil, gas uranium in large quantities if there are alternatives out there that make sense?”
On the Saturday of Labour Day weekend, Splettstoesser organized an information session in support of wind power in the Kincardine Library.
The sparse audience consisted mostly of people who have been active in developing wind projects, or who have turbines on their farms.
That included Henry and Lynn Voskamp, who work 2,000 acres of cash crops – soybeans, corn and wheat – near Tiverton, north of Kincardine.
They have a turbine on one of their properties, and have applied for several more.
“At the time we optioned our land for windmills we were not making much from farming and wondered if my wife should get an off farm job,” said Henry. The turbine income has helped keep her on the farm.
“We are aware that not everyone likes them and for a while we were unsure ourselves,” he says, but adds that he’s now confident they are safe.
How will the issue play at the ballot box?
Although Liberal cabinet minister Carol Mitchell won the riding comfortably in 2007 – wining 46 per cent of the vote to the Conservatives’ 30 per cent – the riding was held by the Tories up until 2003.
Mitchell says health concerns are one of her motivations in supporting the turbines, because they’ve helped wean the province away from burning coal.
Mitchell recalls when she was a Girl Guide leader, and used to take her girls on hikes. She’d take custody of the girls’ medications such as asthma puffers.
“I had 18 girls, and 12 puffers,” she says. That, she says, helped drive home the need for cleaner air.
She says the issue gives her solid support among farm voters.
Conservative candidate Lisa Thompson declined an interview but sent a statement saying wind power is expensive and, at the moment, unneeded. It also tramples local planning authority, she said.
NDP candidate Grant Robertson, a former president of the National Farmers Union, argues the Liberals have alienated rural residents by allowing wind project developers to ignore local opinion.
In one project in his own area, he said, “consultation amounted to literally a postcard in the mail that says: Here’s what we’re doing.”
In neighbouring Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, NDP candidate Paul Johnstone plays the country-city card, couching the issue in terms of local autonomy:
“Why can’t they put turbines in industrial parks in the city?” he asks “Those people in Toronto tell us how things have to be up here.”
Both the New Democrats and Conservatives promise more local input on wind developments.
Mitchell responds that the having clear, consistent province-wide rules is what’s needed.
Such arguments fail to impress anti-wind protestor Judith Glover, who has turned out for a demonstration in Meaford, in neighbouring Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound riding, outside a Liberal campaign event.
“I don’t think I’ve voted Conservative in my life,” she said. She will this time, because of the Green Energy Act, which she says has been “shoved down rural throats.”
But respecting local feelings cuts both ways in the arena of local politics. Aggressive campaigns can backfire.
The noisy anti-wind demonstration drew nothing but distaste from Helen Chalifoux, who has lived in the town for 40 years since her husband retired from the Canadian Forces.
She dismissed the crowd as “goons’” and “foreigners.”
“They’re all from out of town,” she sniffed. “I don’t know where they come from. Likely Owen Sound.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding