December 15, 2011

Amherst Island wind farm opposition persists at Algonquin Power public meetings

By Hollie Pratt-Campbell, EMC News, 15 December 2011

Officials from Algonquin Power were in Loyalist Township last week to host public meetings regarding the wind farm they are planning to build on Amherst Island. Nearly 200 people came to the meetings, held Dec. 6 on Amherst Island and Dec. 7 in Bath.

The issue continues to be very controversial within the community, and the meetings drew a fair share of opposition in the form of protesters picketing outside the venues and people voicing their concerns within. They are concerned about a wide range of issues like the effect the turbines will have on bird and bat populations, the health problems that could be associated with their proximity to people’s homes and the visual impact they will have on the township.

The meetings revealed a plan to build 33 turbines in three lines down the island – one on the north side, one on the south and one in between.

“Amherst Island possesses great qualities that make it a viable location for our wind project,” said Algonquin Power Vice President of Project Development Jeff Norman.

He explained that before selecting a site, the company has a policy of carefully considering a number of factors including wind resources, land features, environmental impact and proximity to the electrical grid.

“(This project) will benefit the community tremendously,” said Norman. “Not only is wind energy clean, safe and highly compatible with agriculture, but the community can expect to benefit economically through tax revenues and job creation.”

Norman said that the concerns brought to the company’s attention by the community are a top priority.

“Concern for wildlife and the environment is core to our business objectives as we aim to protect and promote all of our natural resources,” he said.

“From a health perspective, we take the community’s concerns very seriously, and want to ensure that residents have complete, factual and detailed information about the safety of wind power and the safety of this project.”

He remarked that a study by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer concluded that there has been no direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.

Retired Queen’s physicist and Amherst Island resident John Harrison disagrees. He has been one of the most prominent voices of opposition against the project from the beginning, and attended both of last week’s meetings. Harrison’s concerns were only further aggravated after getting a first glance at where the turbines are to be built.

The basic problem, he explained, is that the island simply isn’t big enough to support 33 turbines.

Harrison pointed out that while the company assured residents no homes will experience a sound level above the regulations set by the Ministry of Environment, there is no way of ensuring these predictions will bare out.

“There are going to be homes that will be suffering adverse health effects from the noise,” he said.

“My concern is that 1/6 or 1/7 people are going to be having a significant problem.”

In addition, Harrison predicts the turbines will lose much of their effectiveness anyway because they will be positioned so closely downwind from one another.

“It’s a very inefficient way to build a wind farm,” he said. ” It’s basically a waste of money. To me, as a scientist, it doesn’t look sensible.”

Harrison added that the concerns of area naturalist groups were also piqued at the meeting when the proximity of the turbines to Amherst Island’s famous owl woods was revealed.

“There are five turbines (near the woods), one as close as 600 metres,” he said. “It’s extraordinary they would even think of doing that, and inconceivable that MNR would allow that to happen.”

Loyalist mayor Bill Lowry agreed that it was disappointing to see how close the turbines will be to the woods.

“I do have a great love for owls and other beautiful birds,” he said. “I can’t see any way in hell this is not going to affect them.”

He said that he has put a lot of thought into the issue over the last three years, however the provincial government has imposed regulations severely limiting the township’s say in the matter.

“We’ve done everything we possibly could to protect the people of Amherst Island within our means,” he said. “I don’t think we have the power to pull the plug.”

Harrison also believes there is little that can be done, noting that while the meetings produced a lot of interesting dialogue between community members and consultants, he got the feeling Algonquin Power does not plan on changing the project. However, he said there is still hope that the Ministry of Natural Resources and naturalist organizations might be able to step in to help mitigate some of the effects on wildlife.

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