By JOHN DEVINE, SPECIAL TO THE SUN TIMES,owensoundsuntimes.com
Norma Schmidt stood before the protesters gathered at the front doors of Queen’s Park, and as her voice broke, spoke of health problems she says are connected to the wind turbine 450 metres from her house.
She told of ongoing migraines, vomiting, insomnia, high blood pressure and stress ailments, all of which she maintains are connected to the presence of the turbines at the wind farm between Kincardine and Port Elgin.
As the other protesters encouraged her, and amid cries of “shame, shame” directed at Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario Energy Minster Brad Duguid, Schmidt told how she and her husband at one point considered just walking away from their home of almost 30 years.
Her voice steeled with resolve, she had a message for the group, and the government. She’s staying to fight for her cause, and she urged others to join her.
Earlier, before addressing the group, she said the health impacts of wind turbines are real, and that the government should heed such concerns.
“I’m here today to say to the government that there are people suffering health issues, and I am one of them.”
On a sunny, and windy, spring day, more than 300 people living near wind farms, or worried they may soon be, arrived at the Legislature to get the government’s attention, and support a Progressive Conservative bill to give municipalities input into wind farm developments — input, say critics, that has been stripped away by the Green Energy Act.
“The bill would . . . return the planning act component to the municipality. Right now, under the Green Energy Act, municipalities have no input into where the (wind farms are developed) — or whether in fact they want them in their communities at all,” said Sylvia Jones, PC Dufferin-Caledon, author of the bill.
Before the Green Energy Act, said Jones, wind farm proponents worked with the municipality on a number of areas, such as zoning changes.
“Developers had to go to the municipalities and essentially work with them to ensure the municipal government, and by extension the residents, was comfortable with what was going to be (built).”
Jones cited a development in her community (Melancthon, near Shelburne) that had been approved under the former Environmental Assessment process, now replaced by the Renewable Energy Approvals framework of the Green Energy Act.
“It (the former process) ensured the municipality was at the table, ensuring the respect of their community and residents.”
The bill was set to be debated that afternoon, and Jones said she wouldn’t be surprised if it was defeated — which it was. “What it does ensure is that the debate continues.”
Nicholas Schaut is familiar with the wind farm in the Melancthon area. Now living near Meaford, he was once a neighbour of the development, but moved away because, he said, of the health implications.
At first he and his wife were in favour of the plan, which originally called for eight turbines in his area.
“They had started the environmental screening reports and initial community discussions around the project. And it sort of was met with interest and . . . a great deal of support.”
It was, he said, essentially a community-launched project, and most people at the time felt the project was going to serve the electrical needs of the Melancthon and Shelburne area.
But power generated by a wind farm is fed into the provincial electricity grid, to become a provincial resource.
Eventually, the small eight-turbine project became a 45-turbine wind farm. “It was at this point that we started taking note.”
They remained supportive of the project, said Schaut.
“My partner and I are people who are sensitive and understanding to the requirements of . . . our broader environment.”
Living in the country in the Melancthon area, they are organic-minded people who grow organic products, he said. “We thought this would benefit the community and individual farmers.”
His view began to change when the turbines started arriving.
“The photographs didn’t do the scale any justice. They’re 300 feet tall. These are 1.5-megawatt turbines,” said Schaut, who added those turbines are now considered midsized. “They’re moving up to three-megawatt turbines. Well, those are enormous.”
He remembers when the first of the turbines began to be trucked in, on the way to their final destination, 4.5 kilometres from his house. The moment made a lasting impression.
“You see these enormous turbines coming in sections down the highway. And it’s remarkable. One section of a turbine, a blade, was something like 72 feet long. “It got stuck on our corner. It took them hours just to navigate that corner. That gives you a sense of the size of this thing.
“People were blown away by the scale of them. From my house, of the 45 of them, we saw about 36.”
The sheer magnitude of the turbines, in size and numbers, altered the landscape, said Schaut.
“It converted that flat farmland into this industrial complex, with enormous power lines, all visible, as well as the turbines.”
The turbines emitted a noise that could be heard while out for a walk, he said, and that it “sounded like the distant sound of a dryer.”
Phase two of the project went up, and the number of turbines jumped to 133. Schaut said five families got together to challenge the development, taking their issue to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“There wasn’t much of an outcome.”
They got the possibility of a third-party review of any future developments in the Melancthon community, and some zoning bylaw changes. “But that was it.”
When the rest of the turbines were installed, the nearest was 850-950 metres from his house, said Schaut.
“We ended up seeing virtually all the turbines from our house. We were living in the country, in a rural environment, and at night we see all these turbines, and we see them blinking at night.
“From our dining room table, they are there. When you wake up in the morning and you look out your window, they are there. When we go outside they are there. When we drive in and out of the community they are there. They are always there. They don’t go away.”
The noise, he said, was a constant whooshing-type sound, and there was a physical sensation associated with it.
“When the blade passes by the post, air and sound is compressed. And you feel this, in association with the sound. It’s a really strange feeling and sometimes I would feel like my heart rate was altering, going a little bit faster.”
Like Schmidt, he said the health effects are real, and also had harsh words for the Green Energy Act.
“I think the Green Energy Act is a remarkably draconian and regressive set of rules in terms of governance,” he said.
He joins others in raising alarms about wind turbines, saying more has to be done to study the impacts of “these large-scale wind turbines.”
Apart from input and health issues, Schaut said the introduction of wind turbines to a community can cause friendships to falter, often pitting those who have leased land to a wind farm developers, against others who have not.
“It slowly comes out, and then you discover that your neighbour has an agreement, and never told you about it.”
Schaut is part of a new advocacy group, Wind Concerns Meaford, part of the Wind Concern Ontario coalition. The Meaford group has held a number of meetings to get organized in the community, including the Sydenham and St. Vincent area, where there’s news of a wind farm proposal in the early stages.
Back at Queen’s Park, Toronto’s Mara Trokova was one of the hundreds from across the province with a common goal. She wants to see plans for turbines on the Scarborough bluffs shelved.
“We are against the industrialization of the waterfront with wind turbines. Everyone is against these -all over Ontario and all over Canada. The word is just getting out now.”
For her part, Schmidt said she is lucky to have a place on the peninsula where she can get away from the turbines 450 metres from her house. (The Green Energy Act has established a minimum setback of 550 metres).
And like Schaut, she was originally supportive of the initiative.
“When I heard about the idea of renewable energy, I thought it was a great idea. It didn’t bother me in the least. I’ve been proven wrong.”