Despite the claim that wind energy is helping the environment, the rural backlash has been intense. Opponents such as the Vlemmics cite health concerns, falling property values, destruction of wildlife and the high costs of producing power with wind. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, originally a strong backer of the plan, has called for a moratorium on wind farm development. In the aftermath of the election, in which the ruling Liberals lost key ridings that are home to wind farms, including the Huron-Bruce seat of agriculture minister Carol Mitchell, the McGuinty government launched a review of the green energy program.
Rose Vlemmic has one word to describe the giant wind turbines about to be built behind her Grand Bend home: Ugly.
“It’s just ridiculous. We had our house up for sale, but who’s going to buy it with all these turbines?” she says.
Four years after building their dream home outside the resort village, Rose and her husband Ray have been jolted by news that four industrial wind turbines – 100 metres high – will go up on the farmland between their house and the village.
They’re not alone in their shock. As prolific as the often-unwanted wind farms already are in rural Ontario, the province hasn’t seen anything yet.
While Ontario has 1,200 industrial wind turbines operating now, it has signed deals that’ll more than double that number in the next couple of years.
Add in plans for more turbines – projects either going through the approval mill, or on the drawing boards – and that figure could jump to 6,400 turbines, according to calculations by Wind Concerns Ontario, a citizens’ group that tracks the ever-changing projects.
It’s a far cry from 2003, when the province had only 10 wind turbines.
Ontario’s original goal was to have 10,700 megawatts of power from wind, solar and bio-energy in place by 2018.
An Energy Ministry spokesperson said it appears that target – enough energy to power millions of homes – will be hit three years earlier, by 2015.
“At the end of 2013, we will decide whether to raise the 10,700-MW target,” he said.
With Ontario pushing full throttle ahead with its controversial and multibillion-dollar wind energy program, thousands of rural property owners have received notifications their homes or land fall within a planned wind farm or on an anticipated route for a transmission line.
The project that’ll soon change the landscape for the Vlemmics is the Grand Bend Wind Farm, a 48-turbine operation being developed by Northland Power on 2,400 hectares along Lake Huron. It’s commercial startup date is next year.
But that’s just the start in the region:
Only a couple of kilometres south of the Grand Bend-area couple’s property, the Goshen Wind Energy Centre, with 63 massive turbines, is planned in South Huron and Bluewater municipalities. Its developer, NextEra Energy Canada, has a 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority.
Further south along Lake Huron in the Ipperwash area, NextEra Energy Canada, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, the largest wind-energy company in the U.S., has an even larger project on the books. Called the Jericho Wind Energy Centre, it covers 3,440 hectares of farmland. That wind farm will straddle Lambton Shores in Lambton County and North Middlesex in Middlesex County, with 72 turbines.
Closer to London, in Adelaide-Metcalfe and North Middlesex, three wind farms are under development with a total of 110 turbines.
Then there’s K2 Wind Ontario, just north of Goderich. With a total of 142 wind turbines, K2’s three developers – Samsung Renewable Energy, Capital Power and Pattern Renewable – hope to begin construction next year and start producing power in 2014. It’s a $900-million project.
There are other projects in the wings, many along the wind-rich Lake Huron coast.
Up on the Bruce Peninsula, where three industrial wind turbines are now churning, two companies have plans that would add a total of 200 turbines to the landscape if the needed power transmission lines are built.
Your drive to the beach might never look the same.
“They are really pushing – from Goderich down through Zurich and Parkhill, and south to Erie shores,” said Jane Wilson, an Ottawa-area registered nurse and president of Wind Concerns Ontario, the citizens’ group that spearheaded opposition to the turbines during last fall’s Ontario election.
Despite the claim that wind energy is helping the environment, the rural backlash has been intense.
Opponents such as the Vlemmics cite health concerns, falling property values, destruction of wildlife and the high costs of producing power with wind.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, originally a strong backer of the plan, has called for a moratorium on wind farm development.
In the aftermath of the election, in which the ruling Liberals lost key ridings that are home to wind farms, including the Huron-Bruce seat of agriculture minister Carol Mitchell, the McGuinty government launched a review of the green energy program.
It also named veteran London politician Chris Bentley to the tricky Energy Ministry portfolio.
Bentley clearly hopes some of the recommendations from the recently-released review will blunt the rural anger.
While the government isn’t about to return the planning control over energy projects that it stripped away from municipalities, it’s looking at a point system that gives priority to projects that have local backing, he said.
“In the future, clean energy proposals such as wind projects will more likely go to communities that are either participating in them, passed resolutions in support of them, or that involves community institutions,” he said.
“The new approach shows that we’ve listened, we’ve taken community input into account. We’ve rejected an approach that would see hundreds of different rules in all parts of the province.”
Still, some people will be deeply unhappy with the wind turbines despite the environmental and economic benefits, Bentley admits.
“There is a constant about energy issues. We all use it and most of us would rather not have it beside us. It really doesn’t matter what kind of a project I come up, I can guarantee you, you will find people who would rather not see it.”
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HOW ONTARIO STACKS UP
The province has outstripped the rest of Canada in installed generating capacity from wind farms. Megawatts installed as of March 31:
New Brunswick: 294
Nova Scotia: 285.6
British Columbia: 247.5
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WHAT THEY SAY
“We are determined to get out of coal. One of the ways to do that is to bring on this clean, green energy.”
— Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley
“It is just astounding that the province is still letting out these contracts to pay for very expensive wind power that comes with a lot of other problems.”
— Jane Wilson, Wind Concerns Ontario president
[subsequently published as “Turbines soar to a new level”]
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