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Residents will derail wind turbines, opposition group says

ST. CATHARINES – A massive wind project planned for West Niagara won’t get off the ground if citizens rise up and say no.

So says Wind Concerns Ontario president John Laforet, who predicts the $550-million project will be scrapped. He slams the company behind the plan, the Niagara Region Wind Corp., saying it doesn’t work for the areas of West Lincoln, Wainfleet, Pelham and Haldimand County they’re proposing.

“The Niagara Region Wind Corporation has been highly irresponsible in their approach to renewable energy development,” he said. “The amount of opposition in the area will likely prevent this project from getting off the ground if citizens remain diligent.”

The project could see as many as 100 turbines erected. The turbine placement in the region has not been finalized.

“It’s far too densely populated an area and it’s not a compatible land use with what landowners are currently doing,” he said.

The company is offering landowners $50,000 a year to lease their land. Other wind firms offer $15,000 a year for land leases, he said.

“The idea is that they can buy people’s support,” he said. “It’s a really offensive notion. They are actively pitting community members against each other and the only winners will be their investors on Bay Street.”

Laforet said West Niagara residents should be concerned about health impacts from the turbines because of the noise they generate and how close they are to homes.

“The noise generated from wind turbines is far too loud to be considered safe,” he said.

Laforet, and the network of Wind Concern groups across the province, want all wind development in Ontario halted while health concerns are studied. The group also wants local planning power over green energy projects restored to municipal councils and subsidies to energy companies cut.

“It’s a gross process that they have in Ontario. It’s absolutely scandalous how these decisions are being made,” he said. “It’s got to stop.”

Both West Lincoln and Wainfleet councils have joined a growing list of communities across Ontario asking the government for a moratorium on wind development. They want more research into the health impacts of wind turbines.

West Lincoln Coun. Sue-Ellen Merritt said she wants more information about the project that is planned for the municipality. But she said the Green Energy Act has vastly curtailed what a council can do about a project like this.

“It’s very difficult for me to say, as an elected official, there isn’t anything we can do,” she said. “These companies know that.”

NRWC has already met with West Lincoln council and will do so again on Oct. 24. Merritt said she’s urged the company to disclose all of its plans for the project.

“Residents already mistrust and understandably so,” she said. “When you’re not open and transparent, it just increases that mistrust.”

Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs said there is significant interest in the project. A public meeting on the issue drew close to 100 people during a weeknight.

“They wanted to know more about the health concerns and property devaluation,” she said. “That’s exactly what the moratorium calls for, more research into that.”

Jeffs said council is not opposed to green energy projects, but more must be done to investigate the set-backs of 550 metres mandated by the province.

“I do think that turbines, to put them in Niagara, especially Wainfleet, it’s not as vast as people think. They are still close to a lot of homes.”

But NRWC spokeswoman Randy Rahamim said the company chose West Niagara because of strong wind resources, the willingness of landowners to co-operate, the available pool of skilled labour and access to transmission capacity. She said instead of disrupting local land use, the project could help solidify it.

“What plagues a lot of farmers nowadays is the inability to keep farming because of revenue lost,” she said. “A project like this provides supplemental income.”

Rahamim said Laforet’s insistence the firm is trying to buy its way into the good graces of area landowners is “absolutely ridiculous.”

“It says a whole lot about this company that it’s not greedy,” she said of the $50,000 lease payments. “It’s sharing revenue with people who are participating in the project in a reasonable and fair way.”

Rahamim said a number of community members have raised concerns about the health impacts of the turbines.

“We can tell you that the Ontario Chief Medical Officer has reviewed literature on this matter as a result of concerns of the public and has stated that there are no known health impacts from wind.”

She said the company will continue to meet with municipalities and answer questions from residents.

“We want to work with these municipalities, we don’t want to bulldoze our way through a community,” she said. “We want to be respectful.”