Darryl De Groot says it’s gotten to the point that farmers have stopped waving to each other on Northville Road.
And that’s just one impact the dairy farmer sees that Ontario’s Green Energy Act, and Nextera’s proposed Jericho wind energy project, is having on rural Lambton Shores.
“Country life out here, it’s not like it once was,” De Groot said.
Florida-based Nextera is planning to build a 92-turbine wind farm in Lambton Shores and neighbouring Warwick Township, and the community has divided between farmers who signed leases, allowing the wind companies to build turbines on their land, and those who didn’t, De Groot said.
When the land agents came around in 2008, he and his father took a look at what they were offering, and turned them down.
“Dad said, ‘You know what, anything to do with the government that is 50 pages long, don’t sign it.'”
But other farmers did, including some of De Groot’s neighbours.
Nextera received a contract to sell power to Ontario, and is in the final stages of securing provincial environmental approval to move ahead with its project.
“Farmers aren’t waving at each other on the roads any more,” De Groot said.
“It’s sad . . . it should have been done a different way. It shouldn’t have been pushed on us.”
De Groot grew up on the farm near the small community of Arkona, went to agricultural college, married and has a one-year-old child he still hopes will be the fourth generation of the family to farm on Northville Road.
Today, De Groot and his father milk 80 cows and grow grain to feed them, along with a little extra to sell as cash crops.
“We choose to live out here, out from the city,” he said.
“It’s beautiful, and now they’re totally going to destroy our landscape. I can’t figure it out.”
He said Nextera’s maps show plans for turbines all around the farm, including some less than 1,000 metres from the dairy barn, and his house.
He said he’s worried about the impact on his family’s health, and on the cows providing his livelihood.
“My biggest concern is electrical pollution from these turbines,” he said.
Farmers in Wisconsin, and other parts of North America, he said, have reported problems with electrical pollution, also known as stray voltage, after wind turbines went up near them.
Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food’s website says stray voltage has been a problem for dairy and other livestock farms for about two decades.
A fact sheet on the Hydro One website says it can be produced by both on and off-farm sources, and offers advice for farmers who think they may have a stray voltage problem.
If a cow touches a grounded metal object where stray voltage is present, a small electric current may pass through the animal, according to Hydro One.
De Groot said he has heard it can cause problems with reproduction in cows, and lower milk production.
“There’s a lot of question marks,” he said.
“That’s the big, scary thing for many of us out here.”
De Groot said he raised his concerns in writing, and in person, with Nextera representatives.
One wrote back, suggesting planting some trees next to the house.
“They just don’t get it,” he said.
NextEra spokesperson Josie Hernandez said the company has more than 100 wind farms.
“It has not been the experience of NextEra Energy Resources that wind turbine operations have any negative impact on livestock and crops,” she said.
Most stray voltage cases happen when farm equipment is improperly grounded, or a change in current patterns on distribution lines expose pre-existing problems with them, Hernandez said.
Wind turbines may expose faults in the systems, but are “not the root of the problem,” she said.
De Groot became involved in the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group a few years ago, after a neighbour stopped in to tell him about a protest planned for the former Liberal MPP’s constituency office in Strathroy.
The provincial government is pushing wind turbines on rural Ontario, he said.
“It’s like a dictatorship, right?”
But, he hasn’t given up yet on trying to stop the turbines from coming.
After all, De Groot said, the Liberal government changed its mind about a natural gas-fired electricity plant Mississauga residents didn’t want, even after construction had begun.
Nextera hasn’t even begun to build the Jericho project turbines yet, he said
“So, I can’t see why the plug can’t be pulled.”
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