Standing at the end of his driveway on Tower Road in Millsville, Ward Brubacher has a great view of the wind turbines on Dalhousie Mountain on the horizon.
“Now that’s a comfortable distance,” he says.
What’s not so comfortable are the three turbines located well within a kilometre of his home and as close as 250 metres to one of his neighbours. To add fuel to the fire of his frustrations, three more turbines are expected to be added to the area because of what he describes as a lack of proper bylaws.
This isn’t a new fight for Brubacher, but rather a new battle in an ever-changing war. He has been fighting for proper bylaws to protect his own peace as well as that of residents along his road since 2005 when the first turbine was installed. At the time there were no bylaws in Pictou County to govern wind turbines. As a result the tower was erected just 250 metres from the nearest home. It stands 150 feet tall and produces .8 megawatts of power.
Brubacher and fellow neighbours brought their concerns to the Municipality of Pictou County council but before a bylaw stipulating that turbines be set back to 600 metres a second 0.8 megawatt turbine was planted in the neighbourhood.
He took comfort in the fact that even though they weren’t able to stop the towers for themselves that time, it would protect others and themselves from further intrusion. But that wasn’t the case. About nine years later residents were notified that a third turbine was to be added, this time 250 feet tall and producing 1.6 mega watts – twice the size of the other two.
Once again Brubacher and others went to council with their concerns asking that the setback distance for a utility-sized turbine to the nearest residence be boosted to 1000m. Council ultimately agreed and amended the bylaw but the third turbine, like the others, slipped by because permits were already in place.
Now Northumberland Wind Farms is set to install three turbines that will produce just 50 kilowatts each in the area. Because their total production is less than 200 kw though, they are classified as domestic and don’t have to follow the same setback regulations that govern utility wind turbines.
Once again Brubacher is preparing to battle it out for a better bylaw by presenting to council on Monday evening. What he’s proposing is a bylaw that’s used in other parts of the province. It would create a third classification called small scale wind turbines. Already Antigonish and Colchester counties have these bylaws in place, he said.
Their bylaw states in both counties that the ceiling between domestic and utility be 100 kw. Here in Pictou County that ceiling between domestic and utility is 200 kw.
He believes there should be a specified setback from the nearest residence as well.
Right now the only restriction for domestic simply reads one times the height to the nearest boundary line.
Brubacher and his wife Mae have gone to Riverton to see what the turbines producing 50 kw are like there.
While they don’t generate as much noise as the commercial ones, he believes it would still be problematic. It’s a different kind of noise because the rotors are shorter and the mast is smaller.
With the current towers the noise is so bad that one neighbour sleeps with ear protection at night so he doesn’t have to listen to it. The noise is created each time the rotor swings past the mast creating a swooshing sound.
“When they’re turning fast you can hear it as far as three kilometres away,” Brubacher said. “When you’re as close as we are it sounds like there’s a war going on.”
He believes it’s decreased the salability of homes in the area as well. For example he said there’s one house a kilometre away that was up for sale, but several times prospective buyers opted out because of the turbines.
For him, he has no plans of moving, but finds the noise disturbing.
“We live up here because we obviously love the isolation. We like to be close to nature. We like the peace and quiet. That’s why we live here.”
Brubacher wants people to know he has no problem with green energy. In fact, he and his wife have been living off the grid completely in their home since they built it about 17 years ago.
“We’re all for it but it needs to be properly placed and from what I’ve seen, I’m not convinced it’s a viable industry,” he said. “Half the time there’s not enough wind to turn them. When there is wind, they’re bothersome. We’re all for green energy, but it needs to be done right.”
Those interested in attending the meeting that Brubacher will be presenting at should attend the county council meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 19, at the Municipal building near the Pictou rotary.
Living off the grid
Ward Brubacher hasn’t paid a power bill in 17 years, but his lights are still on, his house is warm and his heart is happy.
He’s living off the grid in a cozy home tucked in the woods off Tower Road on Fitzpatrick Mountain. He constructed the house himself using a chainsaw as his primary tool.
“We have been off the grid since we built the house. We didn’t even have power to build the house,” he said.
He and his wife Mae have two solar panels now, which provide enough power for lightbulbs as well as a radio or TV if they choose to play it.
They use a hand pump for drinking water, washing dishes and cleaning. They have a compostable toilet with a mix of peat moss and lime added after each use to eliminate odours.
Bathwater is heated over a bonfire and brought into the house. In winter the home is heated with a wood stove.
The house is also strategically built with the north side into a hill.
Skylights provide additional light during the day.
“It’s a beautiful house,” Brubacher said. “It’s not a shack and we’d live no other way.”
They use the wood stove to cook as well as a propane stove. For a fridge there is an insulated hole accessible from the floor of their home. They also have a pantry set off by itself. They forage a lot getting mushrooms and berries, which they dry and eat.
“The longer we live this way, the more we like it,” he said.
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