SARNIA, ONT.—Lawsuits, marches and public meetings – these are the new signs of summer in rural Ontario as energy companies advance their plans for hundreds of wind turbines across the province.
Opponents of large-scale wind farms gathered for a public meeting in the 600-seat Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Wednesday night, designed to “bring what everyone thinks is a rural issue to the city,” said organizer Ingrid Willemsen.
“In the city people don’t think this affects them, but everyone in Ontario will be paying double on their energy bills soon,” she said, predicting inefficiencies in wind power production.
Willemsen hopes educating urban residents about the costs and health effects of wind turbines will get them contacting the province and increase pressure to stop wind farms. The Sarnia meeting could convince other rural wind opponents to stir up their city cousins, she added.
“This could be duplicated in London or Burlington.”
While wind opponents try to mobilize urbanites, other activists and municipal politicians are searching their wallets and bank accounts to defend themselves against legal challenges from wind energy developers.
Esther Wrightman, a mother of two living near Kerwood, between Sarnia and London, is figuring out how to fight a lawsuit brought against her by NextEra, a company planning two wind developments in the area.
The company brought the suit against her after she videotaped its workers cutting down a tree with an eagle’s nest in the Haldimand area last January and posted it online with graphics that parodied the company’s logo, changing NextEra to “Next Terror.”
After hearing from the company several times and receiving a cease-and-desist letter, Wrightman refused to take down the videos. In May, a bailiff came to her door with the 34-page lawsuit.
In the statement of claim against Wrightman, NextEra says she gave a “false or misleading statement . . . to discredit the company,” infringed the owners’ copyright, and used trademarks “in a manner likely to depreciate the goodwill attached” to NextEra’s name. The company says that by using the word “terror,” Wrightman might cause the public to equate the owners with terrorists. A company spokesperson would not add any further comment, as the case is before the courts.
According to the company’s website, NextEra is planning for around 270 turbines in five different areas, stretching from just north of Grand Bend on Lake Huron, inland to the area near Wrightman’s home.
Public meetings the Ontario government has demanded of energy developers are largely a sham, she feels. NextEra officials “don’t really want to hear from you,” and it seems they “can’t wait to get out of town with their California and Florida licence plates,” she said.
In their suit against Wrightman, the company says it solicits feedback from the communities where its projects are built, engages in dialogue “often and early” and “makes every effort to ensure its projects fit with the interests and priorities of the community.”
Just down the road, in the town of Plympton-Wyoming near Sarnia, Mayor Lonny Napper is preparing for a different legal battle with energy giant Suncor Energy over another wind plan. The town passed a bylaw that says turbines must be kept at least two kilometres away from neighbouring properties to mitigate any possible health effects, while the provincial Green Energy Act demands only 550 metres.
Suncor has gone to court to challenge the bylaw and Plympton-Wyoming has retained a Toronto legal firm for the battle. “It’s not our intention to pick a fight with Suncor, but we need to protect our people,” Napper said.
Suncor took the “very rare step” of taking the town to court because no agreement could be reached with council and time was running out for challenges, said company spokesperson Michael Southern. “We would prefer to work with the municipality,” he said, but it seems no turbines could be built in the area with the two-kilometre setback expected by council, he added.
Some residents support the wind farm, but with an organized and vocal opposition group that has shown up at public meetings, Napper said the town has to support the majority in opposition.
While Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli promised municipalities a greater say in energy developments within their borders earlier this year, Napper said Premier Kathleen Wynne’s statements seem to suggest changes may be only for future wind farm plans. “They might not choose to reverse this (in Plympton-Wyoming). We’re not giving up the fight here,“ he said.
Suncor will “wait and see” if the province makes any changes, but the company is hoping for approval soon to start construction in 2014 on 46 turbines planned near Lake Huron.
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