BERWICK – She is fighting the good fight and not about to quit just yet.
Margaret Benke is chair of the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont and she and her group are hoping to stop the wind turbines from coming to the township.
Benke said the first time she heard about the turbines coming was when she read about a public meeting in the Chesterville Record.
“I said I’ve got to do something,” said Benke.
Earlier this year, EDP Renewables was awarded a contract for its proposed Nation Rise Wind Farm under the Independent Electricity System Operator’s large renewable procurement process. The project is rated at a potential 100,000 megawatts. On its website, EDP says it has secured contracts with about 40 local landowners covering over 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres).
Benke related a story of her nephew who had purchased his first home in Shelburne and within a year or two wind turbines went up around his land.
“He couldn’t live in his house anymore,” she said. “He abandoned his house. He likened (the noise) to living inside a drum.”
Benke said she had been hearing the stories at family get-togethers about issues with wind turbines.
This spurred Benke into action. Together with a family friend who happens to be a cartographer, they put together a map of the area and, allowing for the mandatory 550-metre setback for wind turbines, were able to determine approximately where the turbines could be erected.
She also looked into the Health Canada study done on wind turbines and found out of the 2,004 people originally selected for the study, 430 had abandoned or demolished their houses due to the turbines.
“It significantly decreased the number of people in the study,” she said. She said they interviewed people who were 550 metres away from turbines, but the only people who were that close were the landowners who were under contract with the wind turbine companies.
Benke then asked to be a delegation at a council meeting so she could present council with the information she researched on the wind turbines before council made any decision on whether to support the turbines or not.
“Immediately anybody with money sense, their antenna goes up, there is money in this,” she said. As every municipality is aware, there have been cutbacks into how much money they are receiving from the province, and that money has to come from somewhere.
“We did a very balanced overview of what the map looked like and what it would look like if you had a one-kilometre setback which is what the experts recommend,” she said. “There were only two fields that would have qualified.”
The one-kilometre recommended setback refers to a paper put out by the Ministry of the Environment where it recommended a setback of one kilometre for a wind farm of 10 turbines with noise level of 105 decibels.
Benke also found out each turbine generated just over $4,000, which was about the same amount of tax revenues from a home valued at $300,000 to $350,000.
“If you go ahead with the wind turbines, it pretty much kills any new development,” she said. “I couldn’t let this happen without at least being a voice in the wilderness. We needed to have our voices heard.”
Benke said wind turbines give the illusion they are “green” but they are not.
“It’s the perception that it’s doing something for us that it’s not,” she said. “Lack of democracy, lack of transparency, lack of truthfulness.”
Tom Loturco of EDP Renewables explained the next step is for contracted projects to obtain all necessary licences and approvals, including conducting an environmental assessment. According to the IESO website, these processes must include community engagement.
On behalf of the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, Benke sent a letter to Mayor Dennis Fife and the councillors asking them to pass a resolution to request the Independent Electricity System Operator make a willing municipality for renewable energy a mandatory requirement as opposed to a rated criteria. Council deferred the passing of the resolution to a later date. North Stormont had already voted to declare itself an unwilling host for the large renewable procurement program.
Benke is asking council not to give up and if something as simple as passing the resolution will help, do it.
In any case, we strive to have good working relationships with landowners, municipalities and the public,” Loturco said. “We look forward to constructing and operating the Nation Rise project which will be a significant capital investment in the township and will provide substantial economic benefits for the life of the project.”
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