Opponents of wind turbine proposals here are taking heart over some developments that indicate more pressure against wind power supporters.
Escalating concerns about industrial wind turbines prompted the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) last week to urge the province to suspend further development until farm families and rural residents are assured their interests are adequately protected.
The OFA took its new position on turbines on Jan. 19, and it will be presented to the provincial government later this month.
Meanwhile, to the north of Wellington County, Wind developer WPD Canada and a farm owner who signed a lease to host turbines are being sued.
That claim seeks an injunction and $2 million in damages related to the proposed Fairview Wind Farm in Stayner. “This claim seems unique because the owner of the proposed farm is also being sued” said lawyer Eric Gillespie in a press release.
He warned, “Landowners who decide to allow turbines may need to look carefully at their legal position and potential liability.”
The claim focuses on possible devaluation of property. Plaintiff Sylvia Wiggins and husband John listed their home for sale in 2011. Showings started but they said they ended shortly after the turbine project was publicized. Recent data indicate when a wind company bought out homes near another Ontario project, on resale the company lost almost 35% of their value.
“These kinds of things appear to be happening with wind farms. We decided to do something now” said John Wiggins.
All of which leaves James Virgin, in charge of communications for Oppose Belwood Wind Farms, thinking the tide favouring wind turbines might be blowing back.
“Absolutely. I think people are becoming quite aware … I think the realities are starting to show.”
He said people are getting more and more information about health effects, a negative economy and a loss of property values from wind turbines.
“We’re seeing more and more dialogue in the newspapers,” he said. “We were very pleased to see the OFA say, ‘Let’s back up. Let’s see what’s going on’.”
New health report
Meanwhile, a local resident and two international colleagues have published a health study in Great Britain that indicates the closer people live to wind turbines, the more likely they could suffer sleep interruption and a risk of depression.
Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines: a preliminary report was written by Michael Nissenbaum MD, Belwood’s Jeff Aramini PhD and Chris Hanning MD.
Nissenbaum is with the Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, Maine; Aramini is with Intelligent Health Solutions Inc. in Fergus; and Hanning is with University Hospitals of Leicester, in the United Kingdom.
The studies were on two small rural communities in Maine where people began to complain about adverse health effects shortly after turbines at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven began operating.
A preliminary survey at Mars Hill comparing those living within 1,400 metres with a control group living 3,000-6,000 metres away showed sleep disturbance can be the main health effect.
A further study was carried out at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven using accepted questionnaires and comparing those living within 1.5 km of the turbines with a control group living 3,500 to 6,000 metres away.
The minimal distance is almost three times farther away than Ontario’s 550 metre setback from wind turbines.
The study was peer reviewed, which means others in the medical field verified the methods used to conduct the study were valid.
John Krul, a spokesman for Preserve Mapleton Incorporated, said in an email, “Our group and many similar groups in Ontario were very pleased with OFA’s strong statement against the government’s current policy on wind turbines … The word untenable sums it up very ideally.”
Krul said of the medical study the “findings are similar to many others and proves that setbacks in Ontario are not even close to being far enough away from where people live.”
Krul’s group is opposing the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the Conestogo Wind Energy Centre just prior to Christmas and is seeking an Environmental Review Tribunal. The proposed wind farm is owned by NextEra Energy and located southwest of Arthur in former Peel township. The hearing is set for Feb. 21 in Kitchener.
The group’s lawyer, Eric Gillespie has cited a previous tribunal hearing in Chatham-Kent (turbine opponents failed to stop that project), and noted that ruling said, “This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans.
“The evidence presented to the tribunal demonstrates that they can, if the facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.”
The OFA has asked the government to halt wind turbine development until studies are completed. It noted since 2007, when the development of industrial wind turbines began in Ontario, the OFA worked with the government on regulations, cautioned farmers on the pitfalls of wind leases, and expressed concerns about pricing.
OFA officials said many of those issues have not been addressed, causing tremendous tension among rural residents and community neighbours.
“We are hearing very clearly from our members that the wind turbine situation is coming to a head, seriously dividing rural communities and even jeopardizing farm succession planning,” said OFA president Mark Wales.
“The onus is on our provincial government to ensure the interests of rural Ontarians are protected. OFA is speaking up to clearly outline the issues that must be addressed right now.”
Virgin agreed there are problems between neighbours, and he wants some healing to begin after much rancor between neighbours and former friends.
“One of the heartbreaking issues is neighbours are not talking to neighbours,” Virgin said. “One of the reasons we moved to this community was because we could count on our neighbours.”
He added such discord “happens in every community” the wind turbine companies enter. “They all work from the same script.”
He concluded, “I would love to see this put to rest. I’d love to see the healing … I hope the damage is not permanent.”
Krul said of the NextEra Energy plans, “The number of people against this particular project … is considerably larger than the six landowners that decided this was a good idea for them. As far as a total cost, that has not been determined yet, but I will tell you that in terms of time commitment the cost has been significant, not only for us but many others throughout our province.”
Officials with the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) said on Tuesday it has new health information showing there is no “conclusive” correlation between turbines and health issues.
Media officer Ulrike Kucera added she could not comment on the Staynor lawsuit because it is before the courts.
CanWEA president Robert Hornung said in a press release, “The Canadian Wind Energy Association is extremely disappointed that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture last week called for a suspension of wind energy development at a time when thousands of farmers across the province are actively participating in, and seeking to participate in, wind energy developments.”
Hornung added, “In fact, many of the issues that the OFA has identified as areas of concern are already being reviewed and examined through the Ontario Government’s Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) review process.”
He said, “2011 was a record year for wind energy development in Ontario with the installation of 522MW across the province. Farmers have always looked for new ways to use their land and resources productively, and wind energy provides a new economic opportunity to landowners in the form of stable revenue from land lease agreements.
Hornung said according to a recent study by ClearSky Advisors, “a typical lease agreement can provide a farmer with up to $20,000 per year per turbine. If Ontario fully implements the government’s Long-Term Energy Plan, it is expected that over $313 million will be paid to landowners in lease payments from the wind energy sector in Ontario from 2011 to 2018 alone.”
Hornung said, “The OFA statement blames wind energy for impacting consumer rates in Ontario, ignoring the fact that the addition of any new generation (all more expensive than existing generation) and badly needed investments in electricity infrastructure guarantee significantly increased rates for consumers going forward.”
He concluded by saying a Pembina Institute report, entitled Behind the Switch: Pricing Ontario Electricity Options, finds that “Ontario consumers would see virtually no relief from high electricity prices if the province cancelled its support for renewable energy under the Green Energy Act.”
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