SOUTH HURON – The public filled the gallery at South Huron council’s March 17 meeting, with most in attendance to hear two South Huron residents air their concerns about upcoming local wind turbine projects.
Those opposed to the wind turbines held signs in protest on Exeter’s Main Street in front of town hall before the meeting started.
Speaking first was James Corcoran of Babylon Line who said he has more than 30 years of experience working on environmental assessments on behalf of developers.
Corcoran noted there are two projects in South Huron – NextEra’s Goshen project and Northland Power’s Grand Bend project, for a total of about 110 wind turbines.
“These wind projects will change this place more totally, more rapidly and more permanently than anything in the past 10,000 years,” Corcoran said.
He continued that in the next year South Huron’s culture of sophisticated farming and wildlife stewardship “could well be finished, as will be our stewardship of the broader landscape for humans and animals, and I do not exaggerate.”
Corcoran noted that municipalities in Ontario had their power of planning authority regarding wind turbine projects removed by the province through the Green Energy Act (GEA) and said no cumulative impact assessment studies are necessary for projects such as these.
Recent numbers show 80 municipalities have declared themselves unwilling hosts to industrial wind turbine projects, Corcoran said, adding most participating and non-participating residents want them to go away.
“Most residents have no idea how close they will be living with turbines and transmission lines, or the size, scope and devastation of the land and sky. And most are not aware of the direct impacts to their health.”
Corcoran said the turbines being built in South Huron are 3.2 times taller than the towers between Babylon Line and Goshen Road used for the Bruce transmission line.
“They will definitely be visible from Exeter,” he said, adding the blade tip speed will be in excess of 300 km/h, with a rotor diameter of 370 feet and a shadow flicker of one km. He said the height of the towers is 511 feet, the same as a 49-storey skyscraper and added there are only 130 skyscrapers that size in all of Ontario.
“So we’re getting just about all of Ontario’s skyscrapers right here in South Huron. These are the biggest turbines ever built in the world. Humans have never been exposed to machines moving this fast ever.”
He said shadow flicker will be noticed on the west portion of Crediton.
He added health effects can include headaches, night terrors in children, tinnitus, irritability, anxiety, nausea and more.
“Make no mistake, the health impacts are real,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said according to Dr. Robert McMurtry, “the average setback for people suffering health effects is 880 metres and many are documented at 2.5 kilometres. Hundreds of homes will be in the 800 metre range and thousands will be within two kilometres.”
Turning towards wildlife, Corcoran said, “The lowest estimate you can find in the literature is that 300 birds per year (per turbine) will get cut in half, or their wings broken and smashed and they’ll stumble around on the ground for days dying.”
Corcoran said 33,000 birds will be killed every year in South Huron by the wind turbines.
He said about 500 acres in South Huron will be used for the turbines, roads, transmission lines and transformer stations.
Corcoran also spoke of the greenhouse gases emitted during construction of the turbines, including the use of 800 metric tonnes of concrete per turbine base.
He added the energy output of the Goshen project in South Huron will be 0.16 per cent of the energy needs of Ontario.
“We’re giving up a lot for nothing,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran also said studies show existing wind turbines reduce the value of adjacent properties by 25-50 per cent, with an average of 35 per cent.
He added there were several deficiencies in the turbine project studies, with a final study not even available at South Huron’s municipal office, while noise studies haven’t included cumulative impacts of adjacent turbine projects.
Corcoran said there are actions municipalities can take about wind turbine projects, and he requested South Huron council write to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) “requesting that no final approvals be issued until serious unresolved community concerns are addressed including significant study deficiencies.” He also encouraged participation in the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Working Group, increasing setbacks from residences to 2.5 km and demanding deficiencies in the studies be addressed.
The end of Corcoran’s presentation was met by a standing ovation from those in the gallery.
Local farmer speaks
Next up was Randy Yearley, a third-generation farmer at the corner of Kirkton Road and Babylon Line.
“I am very concerned with the change in landscape and the effects it will have on our community,” Yearley said. “This change is largely due (to) the Ontario Feed-in Tariff program.
Speaking of the number of turbines planned to be erected in South Huron, Yearley said, “Myself and my neighbours will have our farms framed in with these mega-generators and the high steel towers to carry the power.”
Yearley said he is “all for green energy,” but has concern about the 550 metre setbacks from turbines, which he said is “the shortest setback in the world.”
“I am seriously concerned. Will I be able to stay on my family farm? I don’t know.”
He said examples of the noise emitted from turbines can be found on YouTube and they give off a “pulsation noise.”
Yearley said his plan has always been to stay on the family farm and over the years he has “lovingly improved” the 120-year-old house.
He expressed concern about what the turbines will do to the real estate market.
Yearley predicted some houses near turbines will eventually be torn down, while some will be left in disrepair. He also said the turbines could further spell the demise of family farms and lead to more factory farms.
“These farms will be run by owners not from this community. Their operations will be based entirely on financial matters and largely on short-term forecasts. It will negatively impact our two assets – the soil and our community.”
He also predicted a smaller tax base for the municipality in the future.
Yearley said a poll in the Ontario Farmer showed that only one in four farmers are willing to host a turbine on their property, while many who signed up would reconsider. He said a neighbour of his has spoken to many farmers and come to the same conclusion.
During construction of the turbines, Yearley said heavy equipment “will decimate” the tiles in the ground.
Yearley echoed some of Corcoran’s concerns about wildlife and said it saddens him to hear that there will be more obstacles for birds such as snowy owls and red-tailed hawks.
He added predatory birds will be drawn to the “kill zones” around the turbine blades and will themselves be put in danger.
“There are no minor injuries,” he said. “Once they’re hit, they’re done.”
Concluding, Yearley said he believes our forefathers would never have approved such projects.
“We still have a chance today to make a difference,” he said to council. “You as our community leaders can go down in written record as fighting for what is right for South Huron.”
Coun. Tom Tomes complimented Yearley on his presentation and said he was recently in the Strathroy area and “couldn’t get over the devastation of the land . . . hundreds and hundreds of acres.”
He added, “We’ll do all we can . . . it devastates our land.”
Mayor George Robertson commended Yearley on his presentation.
“I’ve listened to a lot of them,” the mayor said adding, “I’ve never had anybody tugging on my heartstrings like this. I commend you.”
Yearley’s presentation was also met with loud applause from the gallery.
At the end of the meeting, during councillors’ comments, Tomes asked about Corcoran’s suggestion that the municipality write a letter to the MOE. Chief administrative officer Roy Hardy responded that staff can look into the issue further to see what South Huron’s options are.
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