Ontario wind farms have made enemies, enemies prepared to cross legal boundaries.
That’s becoming a serious new challenge for police in Southwestern Ontario, where the majority of the province’s wind farms are located.
In the past few weeks, there has been a spate of attacks on industrial wind farms and construction equipment with tens of thousands of dollars in damage but no arrests.
The problem for police trying to thwart the vandalism is that wind farms cover a massive rural area, with many of the giant turbines located in remote, isolated locations.
The Bornish Wind Energy Centre in North Middlesex, a moderate-sized wind farm north of London, for example, has 45 turbines spread across nearly 5,200 hectares.
“We do have challenges with the large area we have to police,” Huron County OPP Const. Jamie Stanley said.
Huron County, where a wind farm equal in size to the largest built in Ontario is now under construction, has seen the most recent incidents. They’ve escalated from rocks thrown through windows of construction equipment and lights broken, to a break-in at a turbine tower and destruction of computer control equipment.
Jay Shukin, a spokesperson for the giant K2 Wind Farm under construction north of Goderich, referred to the rock-throwing and damage to excavation equipment as “minor incidents.”
But the forced entry into a turbine tower, and deliberate attempts to disable or damage the equipment, is more serious.
“We are still assessing the cost, but damage will be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Shukin wrote in an e-mail.
More disturbing than the damage to equipment was the disregard for workers on the site, he said.
“Even though the turbine was not energized, there are numerous steps and safety precautions taken when working with electrical components.
The fact that someone would enter the turbine and willfully damage these is of concern.”
Stanley said it’s possible the same person is behind the recent Huron County attacks, but police don’t know who is responsible.
The OPP have increased patrols and will check for things such as vehicles parked in unusual areas or people acting suspiciously, he said.
“It is vital to have the public on board assisting us by making those calls to police when they see suspicious activity or if they have information about crimes. We really encourage them to call and tell us or Crime Stoppers about it,” Stanley said.
The important message is that mischief is a criminal offence whose penalties can be very stiff, including imprisonment of up to 10 years, he said.
“Those committing these crimes need to understand they are breaking the law and will be held accountable.”
FLASHPOINTS AT WIND FARMS
July 2012: Man with a shotgun confronts a wind farm employee in Grey County and threatens to kill him.
January 2013: Wind turbine tower at Summerhaven Wind farm project in Haldimand County is set on fire and spray painted after failed attempts to save a bald eagle’s nest.
February 2013: Anonymous threat made against farmers in a letter sent to newspapers warning that “foreign materials” could be placed in fields with industrial wind turbines that would result in damage to harvesting equipment.
November 2013: Entry to wind farm near Wainfleet and nearby farm fields vandalized.
April 2014: Anti-wind farm graffiti painted on signs in Grand Bend, car tires slashed; paint splashed on a car.
October 2014: Construction equipment at several wind turbines in Huron County damaged. In one case, the main circuit board in the control base of a wind turbine is tampered with.
“Vandalism to private property is a criminal offence that carries significant penalties. It is unacceptable and illegal for anyone to threaten, harass or advocate criminal behaviour. The wind energy industry in Ontario continues to work diligently to ensure projects are constructed and operated with the highest standard of safety and respect for the local communities.”
— Robert Hornung, president, Canadian Wind Energy Association
“It is very disturbing to hear reports of vandalism connected to wind power generation projects. Wind Concerns Ontario does not approve of or condone such illegal acts, and in fact, they are counter-productive to our goal of informing the public of the very real and serious concerns about the impact of industrial-scale wind turbines on Ontario’s economy, on the natural environment, and on human health.”
— Jane Wilson, president, Wind Concerns Ontario
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