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Wind protest blows into Toronto

TORONTO – Hundreds of rural residents, including many from Grey-Bruce, brought their impassioned fight against industrial wind turbines to Canada’s most populous city Tuesday.

The anti-turbine troops arrived by the busload at their latest battleground, Simcoe Park on Front St., outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the third annual Ontario Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) Forum.

Their ammunition: large placards that decry what they say is the Liberal government steamrolling a green energy agenda over rural Ontario.

Their mission, they said, was to educate urban residents about the “problems” of wind turbines and the province’s FIT program and make an unified stand against further developments.

The battle, they say, has pitted the province’s Liberal government and massive energy corporations against the livelihood and health of people who live on farms, down rural concessions and in tiny country villages.

“We’re not going away. We’re not going to stop fighting,” Lorrie Gillis, one of the event’s organizers, told the lively crowd in the early afternoon.

Between 700 and 1,000 people attended the rally and walked around the block in downtown Toronto.

They chanted slogans, sang songs, blew whistles and rang bells as business people, tourists and Torontonians looked on.

They carried brightly coloured placards that read “sWINDled,” “McGuinty Unfit for Duty” and “Give Our Rights Back.” Some held onto green balloons, a few wore hats with pig faces on them and a handful handed out fake paper money.

“The damn things are costing us all, out of our tax dollars,” said protester Daniel Dillon from Kerwood, Ont.

Green energy developers, manufacturers and financiers, along with government and policy experts, are meeting this week in Toronto to network and discuss the impacts of a recent FIT review and long-term outlook for renewable energy in Ontario.

Ontario’s FIT program, a product of the 2009 Green Energy Act, offers stable, guaranteed prices under long-term contracts for energy generated from renewable sources.

The province says it plans to implement all the recommendations of the FIT review, including reducing prices for new wind projects by about 15% and creating a “priority point system” for new approvals that prioritizes projects with municipal support.

However, critics say the point system will do nothing to stop wind turbines from being erected in their communities.

They say the FIT program is responsible for unbridled wind farm developments, which are delivering “huge profits” for wind power developers while making people sick and causing energy prices to soar and property values to plummet.

The protesters say rural Ontario is the true casualty of the FIT program and the Liberal government’s green energy policies.

“This rally, to me, hopefully will bring attention to urban people who think we’re all NIMBYs,” said Barb Ashbee, who said she was made sick by turbines near Shelburne.

The province is defending its position, saying wind energy is safe at Ontario’s regulated setback distance of 550 metres and turbine sound presents no direct health risk to people.

They cite a report by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, which analyzed “available scientific evidence,” along with a report by Howe Gastmeier Chapnik Ltd., a member of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, that analyzed the latest findings on low frequency noise and infrasound from wind turbines.

The province denies claims that wind power is not needed and ineffective.

Ministry of Energy spokesman Paul Gerard said the province’s plan is to have a “balanced energy mix including nuclear, renewables and natural gas” and shutter “dirty coal-fired generation plants.”

He said Ontario now has enough power to meet the province’s needs on the hottest and coldest days.

“It is important to plan our system for the long term. The excess power that exists now will be crucial to system reliability as we take our last nine coal units off line by the end of 2014 and begin refurbishing nuclear units at Darlington later this decade,” he said.

More than 1,000 wind turbines are now on the rural landscape and are expected to produce enough energy each year to power more than 500,000 homes, he said.

Bill Palmer, an electrical engineer who lives near Paisley, said he has studied wind turbine noise and power production for six years and has presented his findings in several countries around the world.

He said off-peak electricity rates have skyrocketed by 80% over the last three years and on-peak rates are expected to follow suit.

Although he’s a “numbers guy,” he said it’s the toll on people that live near wind turbines that “bothers him most.”

Turbines create a “swooshing” sound that people cannot adapt to, he said.

“These people are hurting.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli, the official opposition’s energy critic, said Ontario paid $420 million in 2011 to the United States and Quebec to take the province’s excess power.

He said to accommodate wind and solar, the province is allowing water to spill over Niagara Falls without capturing its power and nuclear plants to vent steam instead of powering a turbine.

“So we’re spilling water. We’re venting steam. And we’re draining jobs,” he told the crowd.

Arran-Elderslie Deputy-mayor Mark Davis, who spoke at the protest, said taxpayers are subsidizing turbines in the amount of about $500,000 per turbine per year, over and above the value of electricity generated by the machines.

He said he met people from Toronto Tuesday that didn’t know Ontario had wind farms.

That will only change, he said, when the national media starts reporting on the impact.

“We need to educate the urbanites,” he said during the rally.