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Wind farms blasted; Prince council asks province to halt construction of industrial sites

The township has joined the growing chorus of voices urging the Ontario government to shelve the construction of industrial wind farms.

At its regular November meeting, council unanimously endorsed a petition from Wind Concerns Ontario, which asks the province for a moratorium on industrial wind proposals until an independent, epidemiological health study can establish safe setbacks for wind turbines in residential areas.

The WCO petition also seeks stringent standards for the protection of natural areas, and a requirement for wind farms to comply with regulations that are compatible with local planning and based on solid science.

Finally, it urges the province to restore to municipalities the right to decide where – or whether – they want to host massive wind projects. That right was removed in 2009 by the passage of the Green Energy Act.

Eighty Ontario municipalities have endorsed the WCO petition, said Catherine Bayne, a member of Lake Superior Action-Research-Conservation, who told council she had circulated the petition among township residents and garnered 200 signatures.

Bayne, whose organization is one of WCO’s 60 affiliates province-wide, was at council’s November meeting at the invitation of Coun. Amy Zuccato, an outspoken critic of wind farms, particularly the Prince Power Project, operated by Brookfield Renewable Power.

In a separate interview, Zuccato, whose family owns a hunting camp along the route to the wind farm, said she can see and hear 14 turbines from the camp and insisted that “there’s nothing environmentally friendly” about them.

“They cut down acres and acres of forest, and the animals that used to live there don’t live there anymore,” she said. “There was always a family of moose that calved there for 30 years. They’re not there anymore.”

Zuccato said she took before and after photographs of ponds that were drained when the wind farm was built and reported the drainage to the Ministry of the Environment.

“They were draining the ponds to water down the road for the construction workers,” she said. “They didn’t ask the proper authorities to do that. They drained four ponds completely dry.”

What irks Zuccato is that shield zone properties along wind farm access routes are gated, and her family can no longer explore the forest beyond the perimeters of the camp.

“As soon as we go through the gate – if it’s open – we get stopped and (security personnel) say we’re not allowed to go there,” she said.

Zuccato conceded that wind farms may help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but added they should be built “in the desert or along highways where people don’t live.”

Coun. Ian Chambers, who lives at Prince Lake, said the Prince Power Project is much more obtrusive than he had been led to believe.

“I can see 17 (turbines) from my property,” Chambers said in a recent interview. “My understanding (before the wind farm was built) was that we wouldn’t be able to see any of them. Most people who have lived out here many years think it’s ruined the scenery.”

Like Zuccato, he spoke of the turbines’ noise.

“They’re not silent unless they’re not running. It doesn’t take a lot of wind to move them.

“There’s a steady drone, depending on which way the wind is blowing,” said Chambers. The drone is particularly audible in the still of the night, he said, even when his windows are closed.

Coun. Ron Amadio and Reeve Ken Lamming both sat on the council that welcomed the wind farm in 2003, when Superior Wind Energy Inc. first announced the project.

“We followed all the rules and regulations and we held three or four public meetings,” Amadio said.

But he now admits he’d be “a little more cautious” about embracing wind power as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“Given the studies (WCO has) come up with, there are a number of precautions they have to take,” Amadio said. “The facts are that (wind farms) are too close to (residential areas) in some cases.”

He definitely thinks the province erred in passing a Green Energy Act that strips municipalities of their power to impose limits on wind farms.

“That’s wrong,” Amadio said. “The municipality knows what’s best for it.”

Reeve Ken Lamming pointed out that wind energy is expensive to produce and has hit the wallets of taxpayers and consumers alike. If the province wants to encourage green energy, he thinks it should support more waste-to-energy companies, such as the Elementa Group in Sault Ste. Marie.

“This is what we should be looking at,” Lamming said. “Two reasons: it saves the landfill and produces power.”

Zuccato said she hopes to invite speakers from one of WCO’s Southern Ontario affiliates to a public forum on wind energy at the Prince Township Community Centre. The date has not yet been determined, Zuccato said.