Posted By Don Crosby Owen Sound Sun Times
The message to wind farm developers was clear. Leave.
“What do we have to do to make you pack up your bags and go away?” said Durham-area resident Joan Rawski.
She was among about 400 people who packed the Durham community centre for a public information meeting on wind energy Thursday evening.
Florida-based Nextera Energy wants to put up about a dozen wind turbines east of Priceville and many residents of West Grey are opposed to the plan and say they will fight the proposal.
“We are not going to stand back and allow somebody to come up here and try and take away everything we hold dear and devalue our property. It’s not acceptable and we’re not going to let it happen and I think the mood in the room this evening was pretty indicative of that,” Rawski said.
But such opposition fell on deaf ears.
Nicole Geneau, manager for the Priceville project, and others across Ontario said the concerns raised at Thursday’s meeting are not new.
“Just because you are not getting the answer you want to hear doesn’t mean we’re not doing everything responsibly to try and get the answers to the questions,” she said.
Geneau blamed much of the strong negative reaction on anger that should be directed to the provincial government for changes in the Green Energy Act, which removes from local councils the power of approval for renewable energy projects and places it with the Ministry of the Environment.
Last month West Grey council passed a motion calling for a moratorium on wind turbine projects until further studies are done on their effects on health and property values and it was circulated it to all Ontario municipalities.
“We think they are calling for these moratoriums without necessarily understanding all of the issues and it’s partly reactionary to the Green Energy Act and the province’s decision to take away some of the decision making authority from the municipalities,” said Geneau.
Interest in the topic attracted people from well beyond West Grey.
“I’m here to show support for the group over here. We’ve been through the same scenario ourselves. It’s divided our community,” said George Lawrence, deputy-mayor of Tiny Township and a member of Simcoe County council.
“We feel without an independent health study by the province of Ontario that this should not go ahead until our citizens are protected.”
Lawrence said the recommendation by West Grey was supported by Simcoe County, which includes 16 municipalities.
John Kruil of Mapleton Township, southwest of Arthur, challenged the four-member team representing Nextera to change the way it deals with communities when it decides where its going to establish a wind farm. Before the company reveals its plans to the wider public, representatives approach landowners to sign lease options.
“Why don’t you get the whole community together first instead of going to farmers, sneaking around the back door? You pit one farmer against the other,” Kruil charged.
Chuck Egener of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation said there’s no evidence that properties located next to wind turbines have lost value.
“To date our analysis does not indicate that abutting wind towers have influence on value of property,” he said.
But Mike McMurray, a real estate agent who lives near the proposed Priceville-area wind farm, said it takes a long time for trends created by a handful of sales in pockets near wind farms to catch up to MPAC assessors.
Egener also told South Bruce Mayor Bill Goetz that the towers on which the turbines sit are assessed at a value of $40,000 for each megawatt that the turbine is capable of producing. Many of the newer turbines are rated at two megawatts.
In response to a claim by Geneau that research shows there are no health effects caused by low frequency sound or shadow flicker, Joan Leaver of Melancthon questioned why six property owners who live near the Melancthon wind farm were bought out by wind developer Canadian Hydro Company and had to sign an agreement and a gag provision discussing conditions surrounding the sales.
Geneau said stray voltage is not a wind energy issue, but rather is an electricity issue.
“It’s been around for a long time,” she said.
Geneau argued that because so many people at Thursday’s meeting came from outside of West Grey she’s not convinced that the strong sentiments expressed represent those of West Grey residents.
Arran-Elderslie Mayor Ron Oswald said regardless of where the people at Thursday’s meeting came from, it shows they are not getting the answers they seek.
“People are suspicious. They don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Steve Stengel, director of communications for Nextera, said they company is undeterred by opposition and plans to press ahead with the project near Priceville.
He notes that there are still environmental studies to be done to ensure they’ve chosen the right location and their application still has to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board.
“We are going to develop this project . . . There are a whole host of studies that need to be done for this project to comply with the rules of the province. We would very much love to build a wind farm here, however we have to complete the studies,” Stengel said.
West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles said he’s not surprised at the vigorous response at the meeting.
He said West Grey is looking at other options available to have some say in the process even though the planning approval has been given to the MOE. Municipal approval is required for a building permit for each of the turbines, and site plan approval is also required.
Geneau promised there would be two more chances for public input before the project gets started, including a second public information session this fall. they plan to start construction next year.