Jennifer O’Meara DurhamRegion.com
KIRBY — Residents are bracing for possible winds of change in Clarington. Two wind farm proposals are being considered in Clarington, which has some rural residents concerned about the consequences of wind turbines in their area.
“We are smack dab in the middle of both sites,” said Heather Rutherford, who lives in Kirby. “We live on a farm and our kids are the fourth generation to live on this farm. It’s a property that’s important to the family, not just valuable but a lot of sentimental history.”
Ms. Rutherford is the spokesperson for ‘Clarington Wind Concerns’, a group of local citizens who live in the study area of the wind farms.
The two wind farms, one by Energy Farming called ZEP Wind Farm Ganaraska and the other by Clarington Wind Farm Leader Energy are both in the early stages. ZEP Wind Farm Ganaraska is studying the area from Mosport Park to Kendalwood Park to see if it’s suitable for a wind farm. Clarington Wind Farm Leader Energy is considering the land from Kirby to Port Granby.
“It’s really important for us to be in complete harmony with residents in this project. We take noise and concerns very seriously,” said Ariel Bautista, Clarington Wind Farm Leader Energy project coordinator.
Ms. Rutherford said residents are worried about possible health impacts, from sleep disturbance to migraines. With Kirby Public School in the middle of the study area, the group is concerned about whether the turbines could impact developing children. They are also worried about disrupting the natural habitat on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
The noise is also a concern for the group. Provincial legislation has limited the noise from wind turbines to 40 decibels. Ms. Rutherford has concerns about how the noise level can be measured and the restrictions enforced.
Residents are also concerned their property values could decline.
“We’re really concerned about the health effects. We’re really concerned about our kids. We’re protecting our kids,” said Ms. Rutherford. “I don’t want these in my backyard, but I don’t want them in your backyard either, until they can prove it won’t harm families.”
But studies have found no direct link between wind turbines and health impacts, said Mr. Bautista. Over time property values around wind farms remain similar or even increase slightly, according to the project manager.
Mr. Bautista said Clarington Wind Farm Leader Energy is proposing a small 10-megawatt project. He said the wind turbines will be set back from homes beyond the 550 metres the Province mandates. At that distance the wind turbines Leader Energy plans to use will be no louder than the hum of a quiet office, he added.
The turbines will produce green energy and setbacks mean the project will protect the agricultural land from urban sprawl, according to Mr. Bautista. The company is consulting with conservation authorities to arrange the final placement out of flight paths and away from streams.
“This is a community-owned project by Ontario residents,” said Mr. Bautista. “We encourage people to approach us with their opinions. We do want to go forward transparently.”
In an effort to create more renewable energy in Ontario, the Province passed the Green Energy Act last spring, which took control for these projects out of the hands of municipalities. The Province now approves new alternative energy and has control over safety regulations.
The doesn’t mean local government has no involvement. The proponent has to consult with the municipality on municipal service connections, traffic management plans during construction and operation, rehabilitation of temporary disturbance areas and any municipal infrastructure damaged during construction, emergency management procedures and safety protocols and proposed site landscaping.
Clarington council asked for a staff report on the proposed wind farms. “We know that wind turbines are the responsibility of the provincial government,” said Councillor Charlie Trim. “In order to talk to residents it would be wise to have some details.”
Council has no power to approve or reject a wind farm, if it meets provincial regulations. There is no need for a zoning change or other municipally regulated public review and approval process.
“We get to comment but our comments are quite limited,” said Faye Langmaid, Clarington acting director of planning. “Our comments are limited to roads, service connections and other things like emergency procedures.”
Residents will have more freedom to voice their concerns. Under Green Energy Act regulations, the project proponents must give public notice to neighbours within 1.5 kilometres of the proposed facility. The proponents also hold a community consultation meeting, so residents and interested parties can be consulted. ZEP held a community meeting last July at the Orono Town Hall. Leader Energy is expected to hold its first required public meeting this summer.
The proponents must show community consultation and explain how they tried to address residents’ concerns, according to Ms. Langmaid.
‘Clarington Wind Concerns’ is inviting residents to a public information meeting on Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. at the Orono Arena. There will be several guest speakers, including Durham MPP John O’Toole, and a chance for the public to raise their concerns.
“A lot of people I speak to don’t know the development is proposed for this area,” said Ms. Rutherford.
The group is hoping the meeting will educate the public.
‘We’re hoping to facilitate a community discussion,” said Ms. Rutherford. “There’s been no discussion in our community until this point.”