The project is exempt from the 550-metre setback rule set out in the Green Energy Act since it was approved by the province three years before the act became law in 2009. It is also exempt from the 2,000-metre setback established earlier this year by Saugeen Shores council, since approval for wind power projects rests with the province.
People in Saugeen Shores say a plan to erect a wind turbine in a residential area has sparked a David-and-Goliath battle in Port Elgin.
On one side is the Canadian Auto Workers union which, with the backing of the provincial government, is about to put up a 76-metre turbine at its Family Education Centre.
On the other is the residents and council of Saugeen Shores, which has been powerless to stop the project even though the plan goes against municipal planning rules and regulations set out in the province’s Green Energy Act and despite concerns the turbine will make people sick and reduce property values.
“We are perplexed that for somebody that’s always been a good neighbour and who is supposed to look out for the health and well-being of people – of the little guy – how they’ve completely taken on the role of the Goliath and are just pushing forth with their agenda which is against the wishes of a whole town,” said Paul Krane, a Port Elgin resident and member of the advocacy group Saugeen Turbine Operation Policy.
The group has vowed to declare a kind of war against the CAW if it continues with construction of the turbine.
It will include more protests and a call to boycott all products made by CAW members.
“We’re going to bring pressure to bear on the CAW where it counts, which is the clients that they represent and making sure that they’re aware of how they’re treating our small community,” said Greg Schmalz, a spokesman for STOP.
CAW national president Ken Lewenza is standing behind the turbine project, saying the union has taken all necessary precautions to address possible impacts on the community, including from noise, and has adhered to all federal and provincial regulations.
He said he does not believe the CAW is riding roughshod over the community.
“The CAW has been in the community of Port Elgin for over 60 years. We’ve been an incredible neighbour and we’ve made an incredible contribution to the community; I think we’re the second-largest employer. We have done everything that’s ever been asked of us in that community. We consider it the heart of the union,” he said.
He said once the turbine is operational, the CAW will be “fully transparent” and will set up a citizen’s group, which will include members of Saugeen Shores council and cottagers’ associations, to report on any concerns.
“And if this turbine creates the problems they are suggesting it’s creating, then we will have to take a look at it in a very positive way,” he said.
The CAW, Canada’s largest private sector union with more than 200,000 members, began the process to build a wind turbine on its property near Port Elgin’s shoreline in 2003.
It received approval from Navigation Canada in September 2004 and a certificate of approval from the Ministry of the Environment in 2005.
A year later, Saugeen Shores council rejected the union’s application for a zoning change to permit the turbine, citing concerns over noise, an invasive flickering light and impact on property values.
The union fought the rejection at the Ontario Municipal Board and won an appeal in 2007.
After receiving Ontario Power Authority approval and signing a 500-kilowatt feed-in-tariff contract, the CAW received a building permit last month from Saugeen Shores to erect the turbine.
The foundation is poured and the turbine has been purchased. The cost to the union so far is $2.5 million, Lewenza said.
CAW officials expect delivery and installation of the turbine in early 2012.
The proposed turbine has caused indignation in the community and led to public meetings, protests and rallies.
A meeting held Monday at the Lakeshore Recreation Centre attracted a standing room-only crowd of about 200 people.
Members of Saugeen Shores council, along with Huron-Bruce Conservative MP Ben Lobb, local Progressive Conservative MPPs Lisa Thompson and Bill Walker and many ratepayers, spoke against the project.
The main source of anger for Saugeen Shores residents is the location of the proposed turbine, which is less than 200 metres from the nearest home and within 500 metres of 60 to 100 others.
The project is exempt from the 550-metre setback rule set out in the Green Energy Act since it was approved by the province three years before the act became law in 2009.
It is also exempt from the 2,000-metre setback established earlier this year by Saugeen Shores council, since approval for wind power projects rests with the province.
Saugeen Shores Deputy-mayor Luke Charbonneau said people are “incensed,” especially with the turbine’s planned location and lack of community consultation by the CAW.
“It seems like we don’t get information on what’s happening until the 11th hour,” he said.
Lewenza, reached Wednesday by telephone, said the CAW distributed about 3,000 information pamphlets about the project in 2004 and held an open house in 2005. Council meetings on the plan, along with the OMB hearing, were also public, he said.
He said he is “more than surprised” by the level of anger in the community.
“I’m surprised for some folks to suggest that we did something that was not appropriate when, in fact, we did everything within our power,” he said.
He said the CAW is “leading by example” by erecting a wind turbine, which is the first in Ontario to be 100% union owned.
“This is where the future’s heading. The future’s heading to solar panels, wind turbines, alternative energy and, again, we’re pretty proud of our commitment to the environment,” he said.
John Kyles, president of The Beachers, an organization that represents about 250 people in Saugeen Shores, said the CAW has not consulted with residents about the project for five years. At that time, there were less than a dozen turbines in the province, he said, and little was known about potential health impacts.
He said members of his organization, most of whom are seasonal residents who closed up their cottages for the winter months ago, were “blindsided” by the start of construction on the turbine.
“Everybody is upset,” he said. “They’re just saying, you can’t do this in our community. How dare you plunk this thing down right in the middle of our community.”
Both Charbonneau and longtime Coun. Doug Gowanlock said even though they have not heard any support for the CAW project in the community, council has been powerless to stop it.
“We have explored every legal option, I think, that we have to stop the turbine from being built. Our biggest regulatory tool that we had was the planning process, when we denied the zoning application and then fought the appeal at the OMB. After that, it was really just appealing, through letter-writing and telephone calls to the Ministry of the Environment and the premier and the Ministry of Energy,” said Charbonneau, who lives about 300 metres from the proposed turbine.
Despite threats of a CAW boycott, Lewenza said the turbine will be built.
“I understand the protests. I’ve had my share of e-mails. I’ve had people respond to them. I’ve responded myself to as many as I possibly can. And, at the end of the day, we’re moving forward,” he said.
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