With not enough yet known about their health effects and no meaningful property-setback standards yet in place, the Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills urged Cobourg council this week to pass a motion in opposition to wind turbines.
Cougar Global Investments vice-chair Gwyer Moore and chartered accountant Tyne Bonebakker represented the group in making the plea.
Moore explained that their focus is on the potential impact of industrial wind turbines in Northumberland, and that they hoped to make council aware of the indirect costs of this alternative energy source.
With all the experts not yet in agreement on potential effects, he said, the only sensible recourse at this time is to request the province to declare a moratorium until property-setback and health concerns can be addressed.
Moore set out the problem as it stands.
The Green Energy Act of 2009 specifically removed municipal controls on the approval process for wind turbines, he said, and set aside environmental protections previously afforded by law to the Oak Ridges Moraine (part of which is in Northumberland County).
In spite of concerns expressed by resident groups (and a petition with almost 900 signatures), the Ontario Power Authority backed projects in Centreton and Grafton. The projects have since been cancelled for economic reasons, but the contracts remain valid and can be awarded elsewhere.
“Unless we establish ourselves as a community that does not support the concept of wind turbines, we run the risk of having them appear in multiple areas of the county,” Moore said.
Environmental risks Bonebakker explored include potential damage to the moraine.
“Wind turbines are an industrial form of development, and completely inconsistent with that philosophy,” he said.
Bonebakker also explained the lure of the wind turbines to land owners, who can be paid up to $50,000 a year per turbine for up to 20 years.
“That means, if you get one of those contracts, you’re an instant millionaire. If you get two or three on your property, you are no longer interested in farming,” he said.
“The people next door will have the privilege of looking at these towers for the next 20 years, and it is virtually guaranteed that the property values of their land will be highly compromised.”
With property-setback requirements far from satisfactory, Bonebakker added, there is the risk to tourism and the economy. In the council package, for example, was a letter of concern from Ste. Anne’s spa north of Grafton, where 180 people are employed to care for 30,000 guests who, each year, generate tourism revenues in excess of $10 million. These guests come to the Haldimand hills expressly to get away from industrial development and noise, owner James Corcoran said.
Bonebakker reminded council of contingency costs that come at the end of that 20-year period.
“The cost of decommissioning must be paid for before the project starts,” he declared.
“There are no such provisions in the Green Energy Act, and it can cost up to $250,000 per turbine – and that may not include the removal of over one million pounds of concrete in the ground.”
The group is also concerned about health risks posed by the ultra-low-frequency sound that, in the right circumstances, can travel as far as 100 km. No meaningful guidelines are established in the Green Energy Act to regulate it.
“The sound is over 70 decibels, which is more than what you would be allowed to be exposed to under the Occupational Health Act,” Bonebakker stated.
The group plans to make presentations at every Northumberland municipality to cull these motions in opposition to wind turbines and, in effect, be able to declare the county an unwilling host.
The sample resolution they presented would have Cobourg issue two requests to the Ministry of the Environment:
• That they refuse the approval of any industrial wind-turbine farms on the moraine.
• That they declare a moratorium on approvals of such projects until Health Canada completes its study on the impacts within the current 550-metre setbacks.
They got such a resolution from Alnwick-Haldimand Township, Moore said, and Hamilton Township is holding a public meeting on the issue to gauge local support.
“Producing power is not an easy thing, no matter what technology you are using,” Deputy Mayor Stan Frost noted, citing environmental problems that arise even in conventional power-generation means.
“That is the price of power. It comes at a very dear price, no matter what you use.”
“I understand Ontario makes more power than it uses, so I am very curious where the reality is. We actually have to pay to get rid of power,” Councillor Miriam Mutton remarked.
Frost’s motion to refer the presentation to the General Government Committee and request a report to be returned to council passed unanimously. His aim is to have that report in time for the May 20 committee of the whole meeting.
Meanwhile, Mayor Gil Brocanier said he looked forward to the group’s presentation to the health unit later that week and promised – if the issue were explored further – to bring anything new back to council as well.
Mutton pointed out that a detailed version of the group’s report is contained in the council agenda package online, and she urged anyone interested in the issue to read it.
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