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Wind turbines: Are they truly terrible or an unfounded fear?

Saturday, the middle of the Easter weekend, was a mild day in comparison to most this spring. Kathy Parent says she and her husband – they live in the Ballyduff Road area in Manvers Township – were working in their garage when they heard an unusually loud noise.

“We looked around outside and couldn’t figure out what it was at first … our neighbour said that she was in her barn with the horses and it frightened them.”

Others in the neighbourhood heard it as well. When they looked up, the blade on one wind turbine hung in pieces, twisting in the wind. Heather Stauble, a former Kawartha Lakes councillor and outspoken opponent of the wind turbines, told those who reached out to her to call 911.

There was reason to be alarmed, she says. Pieces of the broken blade were found in hedgerows a good distance from the turbine. The closest roads were closed and turbine officials were called in.

The cause of the turbine failure is still under investigation, but it has renewed some debate on their placement along the Sumac Ridge. In the short term, there’s the nuisance of the broken blade. Parent says she and her neighbours can hear it continuously clang against the support post of the turbine. And with half loads in effect on area roads, cranes cannot yet be brought in to disassemble and repair the structure. In the long term, many of the same complaints made about the turbines – some even before they were installed – are playing out on a daily basis and are affecting the lifestyle of some.

During the debate on whether to allow for the turbines in the area, worried residents brought forward research that included potential health concerns, noise concerns, and water table concerns. Now, some two years after they were installed, what became of those?

The Sumac Ridge installation was approved in 2013 but was immediately challenged by opponents of the project. Their worries centred around the effects on the huge turbines on the environment, human health, and particularly the water aquifers on the moraine.

Much of 2014 was spent in legal wrangling and weeks of hearings, all part of the appeal process. In early 2015, an Environmental Review Tribunal dismissed the appeal.

The tribunal ruled, in part, that some of the evidence presented by the appellants was more opinion than fact. Meanwhile, wind farms were cropping across Canada.

According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2018 there were 299 wind farms nationwide, producing 12,816 MW of wind energy capacity – “enough to power approximately 3.3 million homes, or six per cent of our country’s electricity demand.”

Expansion in Ontario, however, was ground to a halt after last fall’s provincial election. Introduced in 2009 to promote wind and solar power, the new Progressive Conservative government campaigned to repeal the Green Energy Act, saying the province would no longer force wind turbines or solar farms on unwilling communities.

Stauble says while she sat on council, she saw reports and copies of reports sent to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change detailing noise complaints from nearby residents.

“Generally, what would happen is they would get a reply back saying someone would get back to them. After a couple of weeks, there would be a report back that says their modelling indicated the noise level was within acceptable limits.”

Stauble says she heard plenty of concerns directly from residents as well. “Not everyone hears the noise … it depends on where you live and the wind direction.” When there is a low-pressure system, or when there is cloud cover, she’s heard the nuisance noise is worse.

“There have been people who have moved … some who were hosting the projects.” Others have moved their patios to the other side of the home. Some, she says, have to shut their windows when they really don’t want to.

“Another thing I hear is that there are some pretty dramatic shadow flicker effects. They can’t sit in a room when they see it. That’s not something that will necessarily make you sick, but it sure is annoying,” she says.

“It’s not one of those things everyone will experience,” Stauble says. But for others, it’s a real concern.

Dave Marsh, himself a former municipal councillor in the region, sells a lot of real estate in the southern end of the city.

It’s difficult to say whether the wind farms have affected overall property buyers, but he says some residents who were deeply opposed to them “sold at a lesser value” to get away from the turbines. But for every seller, he says there is usually a buyer.

“It’s a mixed bag. Some people are not all that disturbed by them.” He recalls one client who came from Ukraine. She was a Chornobyl survivor, he says. To her, the turbine was no big deal.

“Then there are others who don’t want to be anywhere near them.” Still, he’s heard the same about hydro lines and hydro boxes. “I’ve got a subdivision in Bobcaygeon right now and I’m shocked by the number of people who don’t want to be near the water tower. They just don’t want to have to look at it.”

“I think a lot of people are doing their best to live with it,” Stauble says.

Ward 8 Coun. Tracy Richardson says there was formidable opposition to the turbines when they were first proposed. In some cases, they caused rifts between longtime friends and neighbours.

“We have been a community torn apart by these turbines … those for and those against,” she says.

With the recent blade malfunction, she says many people are concerned with the safety of these projects and while it’s being investigated, they are awaiting those findings on how and why it happened.

“From speaking to many local people over time, we are a community that is trying to heal from this aggressive fight we lost. Many of us live with the effects that turbines create on a daily basis … they are here and we are trying to move on and live our lives.”

She is confident that WPD, the company that maintains the wind turbines at Sumac Ridge, is doing a cognitive investigation and does not want to be premature on why the malfunction occurred. “We’ve been told it’s an isolated case and we will be informed once the findings are confirmed.”