Credit: By Richard Vivian, www.orangeville.com
If a proposed East Garafraxa wind farm goes ahead, people will lose faith in politics and move away from the area, Judith Llewellyn said last week, outside an open house hosted by Invenergy Wind Canada.
“People are extremely upset about the undemocratic nature that is revealing,” the 12th Line resident said of Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, which removes planning authority for renewable energy projects from municipalities.
All necessary approvals are now handled at the provincial level, though municipalities are asked to provide comments.
“I think it’s time to really fight back. It’s time for a class action lawsuit,” added Gord McDonald, who lives near the same proposed project. “To me, it’s all risk and no benefit. I’m going to get nothing out of this and I’m supposed to take a lot of risk — the health of my family, we have a business to worry about.”
Llewellyn and McDonald were among dozens of East Garafraxa and Centre Wellington residents who gathered March 10 to voice concerns about wind turbines and the approval process.
“The Green Energy Act has created this feeling, for many, that it’s a fait accompli — ‘We can’t do much about it, the province has taken it away.’ … The permitting process is actually quite long,” said James Murphy, Invenergy’s senior development manager. “Consultation … will continue all the way through this process.”
Invenergy plans to install 25 to 35 wind turbines in an area bordering the two townships. About 75 per cent of the land rests on the Centre Wellington side, Murphy said, explaining 16 or 17 landowners have signed an “option” to lease a piece of their land for one or more turbines.
“We’re at the start of a lengthy process,” Murphy added, noting many of the details, including the precise number of turbines and their placement, have yet to be determined. That, he said, will be done following a review of public comments and is dependent upon the results of noise and other studies, as well as consultations with optioned landowners.
At this point, Invenergy is waiting to learn if the Ontario Power Authority will grant it a contract under the Feed In Tariff program, which offers a guaranteed price for power from renewable energy projects.
If a contract is awarded, an application will then be filed with the Ministry of the Environment. Murphy said last week’s public meeting was one of the first steps in preparing that application.
“There are a lot of frustrations, as evidenced by the people outside saying the process is not democratic,” Murphy said. “Because it’s a new process for everyone, it is a good question — do folks have the same voice? We’re trying to demonstrate to them that they do, but actions speak louder than words.
“We can talk as much as we want. What we’re trying to do is prove that we also listen and then we can translate that into a project that, hopefully, the community embraces.”
However, that appears unlikely to happen anytime soon, as several residents questioned the impact of turbines on human health.
“We feel like the guinea pigs on the health issue,” Llewellyn said, stating turbines are better suited for spaces farther away from people. “This is a highly populated rural area. So many people are affected … and yet they’re allowed to put them up under the Green Energy Act.”
She and others pointed to headaches, nausea, sleeping problems and more reported by some people living near turbines in Amaranth and Melancthon townships.
“You can see a broken arm or a leg … but a mental thing is not something you can see. And who can prove that?” said East Garafraxa resident Dawna VanSoelen.
“You don’t know until you’re a sufferer,” Julian Vines, also of East Garafraxa, added of the effect turbines have on health.
In addressing those concerns, Murphy said his company takes its lead from provincial regulations.
“The province, when they were going through the Green Energy Act process … their position was that they could find no link between what a wind turbine does and any definable health problem, outside of stress,” he said.