By Nicholas Harfield Manitoulin Expositor
The wind industry (represented in Canada by the Canadian Wind Energy Association, CanWEA) and our provincial government claim that industrial wind farms are a clean power source, that they provide an environmentally responsible way to stimulate the economy, and that they provide much needed financial aid for Ontario farmers. While these claims are partly true, there is a lot more we need to consider as an Island community before we accept industrial wind development on Manitoulin.
While some farmers in the province will receive payments for leasing their land to companies that install and operate Industrial Wind Turbines (IWTs), it is hardly fair to call this an assistance program for helping Ontario’s struggling farmers. Only a fraction of farmers in Ontario will receive any financial benefits from IWTs, lease agreements are not offered exclusively to farmers (any landowner is eligible), and many farmers are opposed to having IWTs adjacent to their properties. It would be more appropriately stated by CanWEA and our provincial government that eligible farmers may agree to receive lease payments in exchange for the use of their land in IWT installations.
It is important to note that locally, only about 50% of leaseholders signed on by Northland Power Incorporated (NPI) are farmers. These farmers are part of a well-respected and hard working farming community on the Island, and are very deserving of provincial assistance. I would fully support our provincial government helping farmers by ensuring they get fair payment for what they produce, or by improving farm subsidies. Farmers who sign lease agreements with companies like NPI are simply being compensated for the use of their land; they are not receiving handouts as the province and wind industry often imply.
Claims that wind farms, like the one proposed for McLean’s Mountain, are an environmentally responsible means to stimulate the economy are very misleading. Turbines are being manufactured overseas, and most of the jobs in Ontario will be short-lived construction related jobs. Very few staff are required to operate and maintain a wind farm, and most of the high paying jobs in the industry are held by a few centralized head offices.
Finally, there are the negative effects to the economies of rural Ontario that need to be considered: the economy of Manitoulin Island will be particularly hard hit if we allow the wind industry to get a foothold here because our economy relies heavily on financial input from seasonal residents and visitors. (I would like to note here that the two operational turbines in Spring Bay do not represent a foothold, and bear no semblance to the development being proposed for McLean’s Mountain.
Many of the wind farms that are in the very early stages of planning for other parts of the Island will also be far greater in scale than the installation of two small turbines in Spring Bay.) This issue is entirely overlooked in NPI’s application, and has yet to be adequately addressed despite the many legitimate concerns that our community has raised. The only way to properly determine the likely economic effects to the Island would be to have an independent third party prepare an economic impact study. Nothing even similar to an economic impact study has been completed to date, with NPI addressing economic impacts on only one page of their Environmental Screening Report.
NPI also denies that their project will cause property devaluation in our community. A recent report prepared by Michael S. McCann (a real estate appraiser) for Adams County, Illinois, USA, sheds some much-needed light on this issue. The report is available at www.windaction.org/documents/27736. In short McCann’s report reveals a 25-40% loss of value for residential properties within 2 miles of an IWT, with total loss of value in some cases.
Wind turbines are a clean power source in that, once operational, they do not emit greenhouse gases. (They are, however, sources of light and noise pollution, but I will not discuss the ecological and health issues of such in this article.) As opponents of the McLean’s Mountain Wind Project, we have been accused of ignoring the issue of global warming, and putting our own needs before those of the planet. To the contrary, many of us are pleased with the discussion NPI’s proposal has stimulated locally with regards to global warming. In fact, I would argue that a continued discussion of this pressing environmental issue is the only positive thing that NPI has brought to our community. We are now engaged in meaningful dialogue on how to reduce power consumption and incorporate alternative energies into practical energy solutions.
We are critics of industrial wind developments for many reasons, but a lack of concern for the environment and global warming is not one of them. We fully understand and appreciate the issue of human induced global warming. We feel that at such a critical point of human responsibility to the environment we should be acting very carefully, and not just re-acting so that we can pretend we are doing something (as I would suggest is the case for our provincial government and their Green Energy Act).
Let’s look a little deeper into the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. Each turbine carries with it a massive ecological footprint in terms of carbon emissions and ecological impacts. Fossil fuels are used to mine the raw ore, process the metal, ship the metals to manufacturing plants, construct the parts, ship the parts to assembly plants, ship the larger parts to site locations, prepare the site, erect the turbines, maintain the equipment, build the new transmission lines, build the access roads, etc, etc, etc. (It is conceivable that ore mined in Ontario is shipped raw to China for smelting, shipped to Germany for parts manufacture, and shipped back to Ontario for parts assembly). All of this before a single watt of electricity has been produced. Contrast this process to energy conservation, which has little if any ecological footprint. This is why IWTs will never compare favourably with energy conservation as an environmentally responsible solution to our energy issues.
We should worry that some of the environmentally conscious members of our society have forgotten their commitment to conservation while jumping on the wind farm bandwagon.
Habitat destruction is still one of the greatest environmental problems we face because every natural area that we lose results in the loss of an enormous ecological service. An estimate prepared in 2007 by scientists from Conservation International, the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, and the Global Environment Facility puts a global annual value of ecological services at $33 trillion. Part of this ecological service is combating global warming through carbon sequestration. Developing natural areas to install IWTs reduces the ability of that ecosystem to take carbon dioxide out of the air, and therefore help slow the process of global warming.
Part of the sales pitch used by our government and CanWEA to promote IWTs is that they will help reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel-based power generation, particularly coal plants. I firmly believe that our society needs to reduce it’s dependence on fossil fuels, however the model our province is using for developing industrial wind farms is not working, and will not work. Turbines can be an effective method of producing electricity on a smaller scale, for a single home, business, and maybe even a community. One of two things needs to happen for turbines to be effective, being that they either need to store the energy they produce in batteries so it can be discharged during peak demand, or we need to adapt our energy usage habits to use power when there is good wind speed. As an example, imagine that you have a small turbine to help power your home, so you run power tools or your washing machine when there is sufficient wind speed. Having giant farms of turbines randomly (i.e. whenever there is enough wind) pumping electricity into the grid is not a reasonable use of wind harnessing technology.
Consider this fact: in the one-hour period from 11am-12 pm on June 21stof this year, approximately 650 installed turbines in Ontario capable of producing almost 1100 MW of electricity were only producing 27 MW. Ontario’s demand was about 19,599 MW at that same time, meaning that under those conditions we would need about 471, 828 turbines to meet the province’s demand for electricity. This works out to one turbine for every 2.3 km2 across the entire province. These are very rough calculations, but they do illustrate the main reason that connecting IWTs to the grid is not a viable option for reducing our dependence on fossil-fuel-based power generation.
Of course no one is suggesting that we try to power the entire province on IWTs alone, but we would need to cover a huge portion of our province with wind farms to even slightly reduce our dependence on conventional forms of power generation. I do have to acknowledge that Ontario’s wind farms often produce more than 27 MW of electricity, with the provincial average over the past year coming in at 26% efficiency, or 282.1 MW produced out of 1100 MW installed capacity. To produce 19, 599 MW of electricity using a turbine efficiency of 26% would require one turbine for every 24 km2. Anyone who is interested in checking to see how Ontario’s wind farms are doing should visit www.ieso.ca.
There is a rapidly growing movement, both provincially and internationally, to stop industrial scale wind farms from being developed under the current model. There is also a strong movement to stop industrial wind farms on Manitoulin Island. Part of this opposition is related to the arguments I have made here. There are also legitimate concerns which include, but are not limited to, lack of information-sharing with adjacent landowners, lack of public consultation (including a lack of consultation with local First Nations communities), economic impacts, negative effects on human health, environmental impacts, property devaluation, loss of adjacent property owner rights, and alteration of groundwater quality and flow.
It is very likely that with a little more public opposition the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm will be stopped. Now is the time to get involved with this movement. We need to continue voicing our concerns to our local and provincial governments. We also need to send a clear message to NPI that they are not welcome in our community. The only negative result of stopping this development will be the loss of potential revenue to our local farmers who have signed lease agreements with NPI. I strongly urge NPI to compensate these people for nvolving them in this corporate endeavour should we be successful in stopping their project.
Proponents of industrial scale wind developments, receiving much of their information via propaganda from CanWEA, continue to plead their case based on what is happening around the world. They speak of global wind-energy capacity growing rapidly over the last 15 years as if it is making a positive difference. They also give the impression that the rest of the western world has embraced industrial wind farms. Despite a great deal of campaigning by wind industry associations from around the world, their product is not globally accepted, and has yet to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil-fuel-based power generation or curb global carbon dioxide emissions. There is no scientific evidence from anywhere in the world that industrial wind turbines are making positive environmental changes, despite growing installed capacity and the “clean” energy they produce. The reason for this is that wind farms have massive ecological footprints, and IWTs are inefficient and unreliable sources of power, especially for the large-scale grids into which they are being incorporated.
I urge you to let our local and provincial politicians know that projects like the one proposed for McLean’s Mountain are not acceptable and that we demand a socially, environmentally, and economically viable solution for meeting our power needs. If you are interested in taking action, five great websites to get you started include: www.mcsea.ca, windconcernsontario.org, windvigilance.org, wind-watch.org, and windaction.org. Together we can protect Manitoulin Island from fallible government policy and questionable companies like Northland Power Inc. Industrial wind farms intermittently pumping electricity into a communal grid is not reducing our contribution to global warming, and is not reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to supporting the wind industry and an impractical government agenda. It is within the means and power of our community to engage in local, sustainable energy initiatives to reduce peak energy demand, cut overall energy needs, and produce socially, environmentally, and economically viable energy for a local grid.