Wind groups seek Huron County Council’s voice

By Cheryl Heath    Goderich Signal Star

Visions of a landscape littered with enormous wind turbines are dancing through the heads of a number of residents in Central Huron and Huron East.  As such, representatives of two groups opposing the development appeared before Huron County’s committee-of-the-whole session on Aug. 4 in Goderich.

Up first was Burkhard Metzger, of the Central Huron Against Turbines (CHAT) group, who says there a vast array of issues that require addressing.  One of those, he says, is the purported notion that the province’s Green Energy Act leaves lower-tier governments powerless to speak out against wind farms.

Metzger says county councillors could be more proactive by relying on their powers as spelled out within the Municipal Act, specifically where it comes to health concerns related to turbines that can be addressed under that legislation’s “precautionary principle.”

Further, he says, county councillors should be considering the relevance of their own Sustainable Huron report, devised to deal with the county’s long-term economic development and planning goals, when reviewing such proposals.

Another concern, says Metzger, is the fact Europe is in the process of reforming its wind turbine-related setback requirements to 3,000 metres for large-scale turbines while Ontario is requiring only a 500-metre setback.

While the results of Huron County’s wind farm projects have yet to be seen, Metzger suggests there are already people migrating from the area because of wind farm plans. And, he says, the location of the proposed projects is already pitting neighbour against neighbour in some regions.

“Commercial wind destroys social networks,” says Metzger, noting that issue also relates to the county’s sustainability, which, he says, cannot compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

As it stands, says Metzger, it makes sense that there are a vast number of companies eager to capitalize on the province’s funding formula for ‘green’ projects.

Indeed, says Metzger, there is a “gold rush” mentality in place that may eventually backfire once the provincial funding well runs dry.

“Resources are going to get wasted … we don’t want to end up like an old abandoned mining town.”

And, he says, councillors should note that though turbines could be a tourism draw at first, “the novelty of these things is going to wear off” with the result being fewer tourism dollars as well as other factors to consider, including negative ramifications for wireless Internet users in the wind-development zone.

Plus, says Metzger, lakeshore residents, who already feel overburdened, property tax wise, will likely be forced to pay even more once the area’s assessment values drop due to the impact of wind farms.

And, says Metzger, given there are a number of projects, from several companies, that are ready to roll out in the region, Huron County’s landscape could soon be a “continuous carpet of 500 foot-high turbines.”

Robert Tetu, of the Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT) group, also took to the podium to address the wind farm issue.

Tetu says the fact that the projects will create only temporary jobs and few, if any, local jobs, is one of the many concerns with the wind farms.

In urging councillors to insist on regular communication from Ontario Hydro and wind companies, Tetu says the fact is “billions of dollars” will be made on the projects, but that money will mostly fall into the hands of their backers, which are located in the U.S., Calgary, Florida, and Mississauga.

Tetu also notes there are liability issues with the turbines that need addressing. In rolling out pictures of turbine-related accidents, including a fire, plane crash and uprooted turbine, Tetu says liability insurance doesn’t cover turbines and decommissioning one can cost anywhere between $100,000 to $500,000.

And, he says, some wind turbine contracts stipulate the wind companies have the first right of refusal when a farm is put on the market meaning it is possible that “vast areas of Huron County could end up in the hands of global interests.”

The erection of more transmission lines in the area to accommodate the wind projects is another concern, says Tetu, noting the Lansink study reveals such projects can result in a 50 per cent loss in land values.

In joining voices with CHAT, HEAT is asking council to make documentation on wind projects available to the general public and to use the powers within the Municipal Act to protect ratepayers’ health and safety. Both groups are also suggesting that council should ask the Ontario Power Authority and Hydro One to maintain regular contact on the status of wind projects.

Tetu also notes the Municipality of Huron East has been diligent on the issue bypassing two bylaws, one dealing with cost recovery and the other seeking a bylaw for the regulation of Low Frequency Noise (LFN), related to wind farms.

“It is not council’s responsibility to facilitate the attempts of big business and big industry to exploit rural Ontario,” he says.

While county councillors agreed to accept the groups’ reports for further review, Coun. Joseph Seili (Huron East) says the wind farm projects are just another way provincial government policies are eroding rural Ontario. He adds that while he doesn’t have a problem with the implementation of renewable energy initiatives, “It needs to be in the cities, that’s where they need the power.”

And, says Seili who has already noted he will not be seeking reelection this fall, “I’m not politicking for it, I’m just saying these people need to be heard.”

In supporting the motion to further review the presentation, Coun. Ken Oke (South Huron) recalls a move by oil companies 30 years ago to buy mineral right from area farmers, Oke says the problem then, as it might be now, is landowners are not reading the contracts.

“You need to educate the people,” he says. “Maybe they are selling more than just the right to have a wind mill, they are selling their souls.”