December 23, 2011
Opinions, Saskatchewan

Worried about the wind

By Les MacPherson, The Leader-Post, 23 December 2011

Saskatchewan is a vast province, vast and thinly populated. Out in the country you can drive for miles and miles without seeing a soul.

So, in this vast and thinly populated province, you would think it is possible to build a wind turbine somewhere without pissing off a whole bunch of people.

Apparently not.

The plan is for Saskatoon’s power utility to build a great, towering wind turbine within city limits. The site is near the landfill, which already is an eyesore, so that’s a good fit. But so immense is this proposed wind turbine that it still will cast its shadow over the bucolic residential neighbourhood of Montgomery Place, three-quarters of a kilometre away.

Now, three-quarters of a kilometre might sound like a long distance, but it will seem a lot less so when you’re gazing at this gargantuan wind turbine. At 120 metres in height, it will be taller by far than the tallest building in Saskatchewan. That would be Regina’s Delta Hotel, at 25 storeys. This wind turbine will be as tall as a 36-storey building, but not as inviting. To me, at least, these giant wind turbines look menacing, like the sentinels of some grim dystopia with David Suzuki in charge. It doesn’t help that they always are on a hill, like the crosses at Calvary.

Folks in Montgomery Place are mightily displeased with the prospect of viewing daily for the rest of their lives a 120-metre-tall eyesore. What displeases them even more is the threat to their health from relentless noise and vibration. They are not reassured by official pronouncements that the turbine, with its giant blades perpetually swishing in the wind, will be inaudible to even the nearest residents.

That may be so, but I can just about guarantee that the turbine, when it is built, will generate complaints from people who genuinely believe it is making them sick. There was a woman at city council’s meeting the other night already in tears over the very idea.

You don’t have to be Kreskin to guess what she will be thinking when she wonders one day why she isn’t feeling well and she looks out her kitchen window and sees that big, ugly turbine spinning around.

(This is by the way, but there is a delicious irony in wind energy generating exactly the same nebulous health complaints as nuclear energy once did.)

Champions of wind energy should think again about supporting this dubious project. Inevitable health complaints will only undermine support for future wind projects. Who would welcome elsewhere what is raising a stink in Saskatoon?

Substandard performance from this turbine, also inevitable, won’t help. The selected site in terms of windiness is not a good one. Rather, it ranks only as “marginal,” scoring just two out of seven on a scale of site suitability. A site rated two out of seven promises a similarly marginal level of performance. Then we will have spent $5 million on an underachieving windmill that helps make the case for more coal-fired power plants.

What makes this inappropriate site so appealing to the city is wind of another kind blowing in from Ottawa. Saskatoon’s relatively tiny electrical utility qualifies for a federal wind-energy grant of more than $2 million, but only by building a turbine in the area it serves. Since the utility’s service area is entirely within city limits, so must be the turbine.

So Ottawa, in effect, is paying the city to piss people off. I just cannot bring myself to believe this is the best use of our tax dollars.

This regrettable subsidy reminds me of a Christmas feature years ago in Mad magazine. The subject was gift ideas for people you hate. Among them was a $10 gift certificate toward a new Cadillac.

What city council fails to realize is we don’t have to buy the Cadillac.

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