STAYNER – Kevin Elwood is all too familiar with North and East Perth’s concern about wind turbines disturbing their small rural community. For years, Elwood has been involved in his own fight.
The owner of a 100-acre nursery and landscape business near Stayner, Ontario, Elwood is one of many residents in Clearview Township that are taking a stand against a proposed wind turbine development in their community. Elwood said he first learned of the project from WPD Canada in late 2008, and asked the lease holder if there would be any consultation with neighbours regarding the location of the eight wind turbines.
“The answer I got back was that it was a done deal,” Elwood said. “That started me investigating wind turbines.”
Elwood said he began reading into Ontario’s Green Energy Act, and felt that wind turbines were being forced upon rural Ontario with no benefit to the community. When WPD Canada announced the initial layout of the eight 479-foot turbines, Elwood and his neighbours formed Preserve Clearview Inc. as a response.
“We looked at ways we could participate in the planning process and realized there were no options for us,” he said. “We looked at ways that we could prevent the project from moving forward.”
One of those ways was to develop residences, 16 by 20 feet, within the turbine setbacks, which qualified under the Ontario Building Code with hot and cold running water, a septic system, ventilation, and electricity. A total of eight permits were initially issued for the structures, and seven are currently being constructed at a cost to the community of $400,000, and $168,000 for building permits alone. Elwood said the community has spent over $700,000 when factoring other costs like their own consultants and lawyers.
“When you have that many people working on your behalf, it adds up quick,” he said.
WPD Canada challenged the accessory structures by serving the Clearview Township clerk and chief building inspector with lawsuits, but the permits were upheld based on wording in the Green Energy Act, Elwood said. The lawsuit from WPD Canada was dropped, but another development occurred in December 2009 when the Green Energy Act was changed. The amendment was designed to freeze development once a draft site plan announcement for wind turbines was made, and made retroactive for the previous six months.
“The new law really disqualified all of our noise receptors,” Elwood said. “The province I think realized that this was a hot potato.”
Meanwhile, WPD Canada had signed new lands that would re-locate six of the eight turbines in the project away from the miniature residences. Kevin Surette, manager of communications for WPD Canada, said the reason for moving the turbines was that additional land became available during the planning of the accessory structures.
“We decided to take the entire project lands into consideration and determine our turbine layout from there,” he said. “At this point, none of those accessory structures lie within the 550-metre setback from any of the turbines.”
Elwood disagrees, and contends that there are still four turbines impacted by the structures built by the community, and will challenge WPD if they don’t recognize the buildings.
“The way it stands right now they say they don’t have to, but we say otherwise,” he said. “We’re at a stalemate now as far as who moves next.”
North Perth councillor Warren Howard said the community has been exploring its own options to opposing the proposed Invenergy Canada project in the area for 23-27 turbines, but that the strategy employed by Clearview Township wouldn’t apply.
“The situation in Simcoe County is probably different than in Perth County,” he said. “The policies in Perth County prevent building a second house on the property.”
However, Howard said large parcels of land may not have residences on them, but still need to be considered for the potential of houses when locating turbines, something he says Invenergy Canada has missed.
“In fact, they’re missing existing houses too on the maps when we go through them,” Howard said. “I’m not certain that Invenergy has a viable project in this area based on the information we have.”
The new layout brings the turbines closer to the Collingwood airport, as well as putting them in the way of Elwood’s own aerodome, interfering with approach and departure paths for aircraft by creating physical obstacles and turbulence.
“There’s an aviation risk and threat that now comes into the new layout, more so than the first one,” he said. “There’s a lot of opposition from the aviation community.”
Despite personal feelings among residents, Elwood said he hasn’t meant to pit neighbours against each other, and that his goal has been to fight the inequality of the Green Energy Act.
“We haven’t been fighting the neighbour, we’re really against the Green Energy Act and how this is being forced on our community,” Elwood said. “There’s no good reason why this project must be wedged between two airports.”
At the same time, Elwood doesn’t want to come across as an opponent of renewable energy, or even wind turbines when they are located properly.
“I probably contribute more to the environment than any of the neighbours around,” he said. “They try and brand you as anti-green, and we’re not anti-green. We just feel this is being forced on us.”
Elwood remains undecided on the health effects of wind turbines, and doesn’t profess to know the answers regarding some of the claims that have been made.
“It does concern me to be the guinea pig if there are issues there,” he said. “Many of the turbine companies and developers claim that there’s no proven health effects. That could be true, that might not be true, I don’t know what the truth is in that.”
What does concern Elwood is that his employees will be within the radius of the turbines six days a week, for up to 12 hours a day, and that the manufacturer of the turbines recommends against continuous exposure. When Elwood presented his concern to WPD, he was told that the health and safety of his employees was his own responsibility.
“If I create an unsafe work environment, yes, it’s my responsibility for that worker’s health and safety,” he said. “If I don’t create that and it’s being imposed on me, why do I have to adjust my operation in response to someone else?”
According to Surette, site studies and reports continue to be prepared and are expected to be completed in the next months, and will be available for public comment for 60 days prior to the next open house held. Following that, the Ministry of the Environment will determine whether WPD’s application is complete and the public will be given 15 more days to provide comments.
“Given that timeline, we don’t anticipate any construction before at least next spring, maybe even a little bit later,” Surette said.
No matter what, Elwood promises to keep fighting for his community.
“We have no intention to stop our opposition wind turbines in Clearview Township,” Elwood said. “I don’t plan on moving because of wind turbines, so I’ll stay and fight.”
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