Planes and wind turbines don’t mix.
In August, the Environmental Review Tribunal upended the renewable energy approvals for a proposed eight-tower wind turbine project in Clearview after nearly a decade of protests by neighbours, and the objections of both township council and Collingwood because of the turbines’ proximity to the regional airport.
In February 2016, the director of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change approved the REA for WPD Canada’s Fairview Wind project. Resident John Wiggins was first to file an objection, and was followed by Kevin and Gail Elwood, whose aerodrome off County Road 91 would also be adversely affected by the proposed locations of the towers.
Both Collingwood and Clearview – along with the County of Simcoe – would follow suit in appealing the decision on the basis the location of the towers near the regional airport represented a threat to human health.
“It was worth it, but the worth was in making a change to a government policy that didn’t respect a huge sector of the community … the aviation community,” said Elwood, a Clearview councillor and pilot who also has a hangar at the Collingwood Regional Airport.
Elwood said the tribunal’s decision was one that could have been arrived at 10 years earlier by the provincial government when they implemented the Green Energy Act.
At that time, Elwood said, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association testified at the committee level there could be conflict between turbines, aerodromes and flight procedures, and “the province ignored it at that stage.”
“It took them 10 years to recognize there were safety risks and that irreversible harm to human health existed,” he said. “The government made a decision that green energy was … above everything, above all other interests.”
He acknowledged it created rifts in the community, thanks to the “arrogance” of the provincial government.
“We knew, we felt it wasn’t for the community,” Elwood said. “I didn’t do it for my own self-interest; it cost me a lot of money, and what did I get out of it? Yes, I might have saved my life by not flying into a turbine, but I didn’t have any monetary gain out of it.
“Most people who I met with across the province … were all concerned about their communities and the negative impact the community would experience through the unknowns of wind turbine development.”
Elwood hoped the decision set a precedent across Canada for policy-makers when it comes to setbacks from aerodromes.
“I think that will become part of any future approvals, or any new policy that may be drafted in the future,” he said. “To me, that was the biggest achievement and the thing I’m most proud of.”
Elwood said it was also a case that was built on evidence, not emotion.
“We had experts from around the world testify,” he said. “This decision wasn’t based on local community conflict, it was based on science and solid fact – and it had expert testimony behind that.”
The municipalities, along with the other appellants, are still waiting to see whether the tribunal will award costs.
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