GUELPH, Ont. – Unlike on the Prairies where wind turbines dot the southern rural landscape with little political resistance, they have be-come a divisive issue in Ontario.
Many farmers have bought into the potential for a new revenue stream from turbines built on their land over the past decade, but many of their rural neighbours complain about noise, declining property values and health issues.
The issue was considered key in a handful of rural seats lost by the provincial Liberals in the 2011 election, which cost the government its majority.
Both the sitting and former agriculture ministers lost their seats, with wind turbines as a key issue.
“It has been a very, very divisive debate,” University of Guelph re-searcher Richard Vyn told a conference on rural land use May 14. “Activists are calling for a moratorium.”
However, he said many of the complaints about the negative impacts of wind turbines are unproven and in some cases questionable.
One of the major complaints is turbines reduce nearby property values because potential buyers shy away from the area.
Vyn, assistant professor in the university’s food, agriculture and resource economics department, said some critics have alleged that area property values have dropped by 40 percent when a wind turbine is built.
However, he said a study in areas where wind farms have developed did not find a decline in values.
“This could be case specific and there could be some properties affected, but based on my study, I did not see any negative impact on property values,” he told the conference.
In a later interview, he said there has also been little academic verification of allegations of health concerns caused by wind turbines.
“There’s lots of anecdotal evidence but little rigorous study of the issue,” he said.
Vyn also said the difference in reaction to wind farms on the Prairies and in Ontario is interesting.
It could be a population density issue, but it may also be a political culture.
“I wonder if there simply are different population assumptions,” he said. “I wonder if the backlash in Ontario simply feeds on itself and the claims of harm get passed on, whereas in the West, there has not been a backlash and the campaign didn’t really get started.”
In Ontario, the Liberal government has promoted the wind energy project as a cleaner, greener energy source. However, there has been little public political support from the environmental movement to support the industry.
Vyn said the number of wind turbines has grown from 10 to more than 1,000 in the past 10 years.
“This growth will continue.”
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