FERGUS – They left the signs outside, but hundreds of people opposed to the Springwood wind farm near here swamped an open house with a sea of green shirts, many of them with stickers voicing specific objections to wind turbines.
The proposed project consists of four wind turbines that would produce 9.2 megawatts of power in total – enough to provide power for 1,980 homes. The project is owned by wpd Canada and is bounded by Sideroad 20 (in old West Garafraxa) to the northwest, County Road 16 to the northeast, 2nd Line to the southwest and Sideroad 15 to the southeast.
Its proposed connection point is at the Eramosa-Garafraxa Townline and County Road 29.
The turbines would be 100 metres tall and have 45.2-metre blades, and a capacity of 2.05 megawatts each.
Manager of communications Kevin Surette said in an interview at the Oct. 28 Fergus open house that the event was designed to obtain feedback from residents. It was the second and final public meeting the company is required to host prior to its submission to the Ministry of Environment for a contract to supply electricity.
Surette said the company would take the comments, adjust its plan and then the MOE would provide a 30-day review for public comments.
“Then, [the MOE will] start a six month review of the proposal,” he said. “They decide, yes or no.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty has already ordered a review of the Feed In Tariff program, and many suspect there will be lower payouts to providers of wind and solar power, but Surette said it would not affect the wpd Canada application.
“As we understand it, it won’t affect the projects” that are already underway, he said.
As for changes from the first public meeting, Surette said there are now construction plans, mitigation plans, design plans and noise assessments included for public review.
T-shirts, not signs
Hundreds of people were lined up outside the hall, and many were soon sporting bright green T-Shirts instead of signs they once carried. They were able to decorate those shirts with stickers that stated such things as “Property values,” “Sky-line view,” “Unreliable,” “Stray voltage,” “Ruined landscape,” and “Tourism impact” among others.
An Elora resident had some questions for Centre Wellington council if the turbine project proceeds, and Bob Jackson warned that while people living in Fergus and Elora might think they are not affected, he believes they will help to pay the costs if turbines lower property values elsewhere in the township.
As Jackson sees it, people living near turbines are very likely to apply to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) for lower property assessments because their property values are likely to drop. Municipalities use property assessments to determine how much each property has to pay in taxes.
So, with lower assessments, Jackson believes all property owners in Centre Wellington will get hit with increased taxes. The township will set its budget for a set amount of dollars, and lowered assessment means everyone will have to pay a little more to make up the assessment loss due to turbines.
MPAC recently announced it will be sending new assessments out this fall to about one million property owners. Jackson foresees plenty of appeals.
And he said wind turbine companies appear to have agreed turbines could lower property values by anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent.
Jackson also noted the township recently dropped a number of heritage buildings in rural areas from its heritage inventory and wondered if council is paving the way for the turbines by doing that.
But Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said when the province allowed the Green Energy Act to take over planning issues, heritage was just one of many areas where the township lost control of planning. She said losing planning control includes long range planning in rural areas, natural heritage and agricultural resource planning, and public and municipal consultation and appeal rights.
She said the township has been using health as its number one issue with the province and received no reply, but added council is watching other municipalities challenge and lose their battles along Planning Act lines because the Green Energy Act supersedes municipal planning control.
“It’s pretty clear those things are gone,” she said of controls the municipalities once had.
As for heritage controls, she said, “A lot of people feel if you get a heritage designation you get protection. Normally, you would. They [the provincial government] have taken that away.”
Some support turbines
Not everyone at the open house was in opposition to the wind turbines.
Jutta Splettstoesser attended the rally and met with people to speak in favour of a civil discourse on the entire issue.
Splettstoesser, from the Kincardine area, visited the offices of The Wellington Advertiser prior to the open house. She is the president of Friends of Wind Ontario, a group she founded after seeing what she called “one sided” talks on wind turbines.
She and five members of the group talk about “social benefits” of turbines, and the group has held a few meetings around Ontario.
“I do not work for anybody,” she said, adding she is a farmer with four children. She does not have turbines on her property, but is working to place solar generators there when Hydro One can accept the power.
“My friends call me the face of wind,” she said. “We need more faces.”
Splettstoesser said people who speak in favour of wind turbines “are getting bullied, attacked in public, and getting legal threats.”
She cited a doctor in Chatham who was threatened, and said, “Anywhere people spoke, they got attacked. I’ve been attacked on the radio. I’ve been called a liar … my family gets slandered.”
She said such attacks keep people from asking questions or speaking their mind on the issue. “The average person doesn’t want confrontation. How can they? I find developers have been blamed for their positive actions.”
Splettstoesser said the issue of turbines is far from over, but “People need information to make decisions – but it has to be based on facts.”
She feels facts have been distorted when it comes to wind turbines. She talked recently with a man from a small community in Germany who told her his community is in the shadow of turbines it owns jointly, and there are no problems.
The community lives within 300 metres of the turbines and “everybody is healthy and happy. So are the animals.”
When asked about noise, she said, “I have heard the turbines, too. The crickets were louder.”
When asked to explain why wind turbine plants visited by Premier Dalton McGuinty for photo opportunities during the recent provincial election were laying off staff within weeks of his visit, Splettstoesser said it might be because the industry works in fits and starts, depending on when and where turbine parts are ordered.
One such plant laid off workers a week after McGuinty made a splash for the TV cameras prior to the election. There have since been layoffs in the solar and wind factories in Guelph and London.
“Some have orders, and some don’t,” she said.
Wind turbine opponent James Virgin was exhilarated over the turnout and strength the community showed at the open house. He said the group had 1,000 T-shirts available, and it handed out 600.
“It was a great demonstration of unity,” Virgin said, adding, “If we’re looking at the tip of the iceberg, which is what comes out … There’s a fair bit of opposition to these wind turbines.”
He said McGuinty has a lot of difficult work ahead of him and pulling back on the promotion of the Feed In Tariff program will be part of that.
“Spain is retreating from FIT,” he said, adding Great Britain is also backing away from promoting high pay for wind turbines.
“The writing is on the wall. The FIT program does not work. It cannot be sustained,” he said, adding that last month Ontario lost 76,000 jobs.
“It’s not working – they’ve painted themselves into a corner. The divide that showed up in the last elections is very distinctive, very defined and very real.”
Liberals were mainly elected in urban areas, while Progressive Conservatives dominated rural areas.
As for any changes to the Springwood project, Virgin said he saw nothing new.
“They are a one-way dialogue. The wind companies are telling us what they’re going to do. It’s a one-way dialogue telling us how great they are. They’re is a lack of meaningful dialogue.”
He concluded, “The people of Wellington have to be proud of their efforts. This is where they live. My God, would you move to Melancthon?”
That township not only is filled with wind turbines, it also faces a mega quarry.
Virgin said it is important people have their say, and that is why the group has adopted the motto, “My voice matters.”
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