We are not children to be condescended to

The Sudbury Star    By Ruth Farquhar,  freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.

Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island

I wonder how many wind farms it will take to shut down one coal fired plant in Ontario?

Are legitimate concerns from the public being dismissed by an Ontario government that wants to be seen by the voter as being green?

After all one of their big campaign promises was to shut down the coal fired plants by 2007 and then they bumped it to 2014 and it doesn’t seem like they are any closer to shutting down even one plant. MPP George Smitherman has said, “Wind farms will help end coal use.” But do they?  More and more people are starting to question how much wind generation is actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In researching wind energy and talking to various people on the Island about the proposed

McLean’ s Mountain Wind Farm which will see 43 turbines situated throughout Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) a couple of things have surprised me –and to be honest have also been quite discouraging. One is that there is much more information out there about wind farm concerns than people know, including article after article about community concerns, various councils throughout the province being questioned by their constituents about the placement of the farms, health concerns from people living near the farms, landowners’ rights, as a matter of fact all of the concerns raised by the Action Group here in NEMI have been raised throughout the Province.

The second thing I have discovered is that a lot of people have strong opinions one way or the other about the farms. Nothing wrong with that, but where my discouragement comes in is that I have always been a huge proponent of wind farms, but now I certainly have reservations.

The other thing is how defensive some people are about the concerns of anyone who is asking questions about the farms. It seems that people are buying into Smitherman’ s either you are for green energy or you are one of those Not in My Backyard people and any legitimate concern gets dismissed before it is even talked about.

What tends to get lost in the debate on the Island is the many people who are asking questions have said time and again that they are for the farms but just want the placement and set-back limits to be considerate of all property owners in the area.

According to the local press, NEMI council is not prepared to rescind its bylaws concerning setbacks or the approval of using Morphet’ s side road for the placement of and access to its distribution line but they are going to hire a consultant/ expert to look at the issues raised by the citizens group.

Rick Martin, business development manager for Northland Power, sat down with me last week to talk about some of the concerns Islanders have about the new farm. Given that the possible beginning of the farm if all approvals are given, is slated for as early as fall 2010,Martin tried to assure that concerns are being looked at by the company.

“We are actively seeking information about land owners’ rights.”

Martin says Northland Power is looking to be an active and good member of the community and reminded me of some of the benefits that will come to NEMI: “There are the lease payments to the 14 farmers/property owners, there are the taxes which will be approximately $100,000 per year, and following all of the initial building and placing of the turbines which will have a huge impact on the Island job wise, there will be 2-3 operating positions and 6-7 full time maintenance positions.”

Martin also commented on the action group (citizens group) wanting the company to address setback concerns when the new ministry rules come into play at the end of the summer instead of putting it through now with the existing agreement with NEMI.

“Those provincial setback limits are a draft proposal and they are being debated.”

When pushed a bit on concerns about the existing setback limits, he responded that the company is not required to wait for the new regulations.

Given that Northland Power is a private company accountable to its shareholders, I asked what would happen to the turbines should the company go under (it happens) and who would be responsible for the decommissioning of the turbines.

After going around the topic for a while the bottom line said by Martin is: “The landowner will not be responsible or liable for the decommissioning.”

I’m still not too sure who would be responsible however.

In numerous articles in the local paper and with me Martin has tried to reassure people that turbines are not monsters. “I have climbed turbines, been around turbines, have had repelling training on turbines…”

In the local press, he has also tried to address the issue of change. “Change does happen; it’ s not dangerous, it’ s not scary, as long as we all keep open communication, and we work with the government designed screening proposal.”

So people on Manitoulin can’t handle change or that we think that turbines are monsters. I would suggest to . Martin and Northland Power that people on Manitoulin are not children to be condescended to. We know turbines are not monsters and we would accept change as well as anyone, provided that it is to the benefit of all of residents, adjacent landowners, farm owners who are leasing their land. We want the concerns clearly addressed, not just reassurances that turbines are not monsters and that everything will be fine.

Islanders deserve better then that.