Wind turbine opponents in Lambton County are celebrating a silver lining they see in a court ruling that dismissed a claim against a wind project near Collingwood.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice this week dismissed a claim made by neighbouring property owners against the eight-turbine Fairview wind project WPD Canada is seeking provincial approval to build near the Clearview Township community of Stayner.
The decision was based on the fact approval hasn’t been given yet.
But Eric Gillespie, a lawyer representing neighbours who brought the court action, says the ruling recognizes that claims against wind projects are possible as soon as projects receive approval.
“There are many people who have been waiting to see how the courts would respond to these types of claims,” Gillespie said.
“It now seems clear that as soon as a project is approved residents can start a claim.”
Gillespie said that appears to be a major step forward for people concerned about industrial wind projects.
“We can definitely expect more claims now that this door has been opened.”
Gillespie is currently also defending Plympton-Wyoming’s wind turbine bylaws against a legal challenge by the Suncor Energy, the company seeking provincial approval to build up to 62-turbines as part of its Cedar Point wind project in Lambton County.
Wind opponents are also celebrating that the court accepted evidence indicating turbines could devalue neighbouring properties by 22% to 50% or more, and also impact the health of neighbours.
“We’re elated,” said Ingrid Willemsen, a member of We’re Against Industrial Turbines Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW).
“It sounds like, more than ever, the courts will open up to people who think their property values have gone down.”
Willemsen said she believes Suncor’s plans for its wind farm “will grossly devalue what we’ve got” in “the tourist mecca of southwestern Ontario.”
She said she has heard from three couples who have been considering buying property for sale in her neighbourhood but are concerned about the turbines Suncor wants to build.
Willemsen said some Plympton-Wyoming residents have already met with Gillespie’s firm to explore lawsuits but were waiting to see how the case near Stayner unfolded.
Esther Wrightman, with the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group, said having a court acknowledge the potential impact on property values and health “is a major step forward for us.”
The action group is opposing several wind proposed wind projects in the region.
But, a spokesperson for the wind energy company involved in the court ruling disagree with how wind opponents are interpreting the decision.
“We see this as a decisive victory for us,” said Kevin Surette, a spokesperson with WPD Canada.
He said the decision “essentially said that the evidence, as it exists today,” didn’t prove the plaintiffs have been wronged by the company’s wind project.
Surette also said there’s a difference between a court accepting a plaintiff’s evidence and validating it.
“Had the presiding judge not agreed with us,” he said, “we would have proceeded to a full trial where we would have presented evidence, and we would have challenged the evidence they brought forward.”
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