I would like to thank Northland Power Incorporated (NPI) for bringing environmental issues to the forefront of community discussions on Manitoulin Island. I have read with great interest the many letters to the editor with regards to anthropogenic (human induced) global warming (AGW). I would imagine that the people at NPI are very pleased to see where our community discussions are currently focused. While the debate about AGW makes for interesting reading, it has become a distraction from the issues surrounding industrial wind farms and the project proposed by NPI.
I place great stock in the scientific inquiry that strongly suggests that our activities on the planet are increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing the average temperature of the earth to rise more quickly than it would otherwise. This is largely a result of mining fossil fuels and burning them to release energy that powers industrialized nations. Through this process we are releasing carbon to the atmosphere that was previously trapped beneath the earth’s surface.
While there are many natural processes that release greenhouse gases, I believe that our overuse of fossil fuels is causing the planet to warm at an accelerated rate. While this is cause for concern, it is hardly grounds for the irrational and panicked response of dotting rural Ontario with wind farms.
Even if our overuse of fossil fuels were not to blame for an accelerated warming of the planet, it would still be in our best interest to reduce our dependence on them and to work towards implementing alternative energy technologies. Oil spills, environmental damage from extracting fossil fuels, and air pollution from burning fossil fuels are all reason enough to warrant a reduction in fossil fuel usage.
Harnessing wind energy may contribute to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels if it is done in a socially, economically, and environmentally responsible manner. However, I firmly believe that the model our provincial government is using to harness wind energy is having
a negative net impact on the environment. I have yet to see any evidence or read any decent arguments that using industrial wind farms to generate electricity for massive electrical grids will result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We need to demand that our provincial politicians request research that will determine the potential for industrial wind farms to result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Should sound research warrant the development of industrial wind farms we will need to devise a socially, economically, and
environmentally responsible model for such developments to follow.
I have been interested in environmental issues for as long as I’ve been able to read, and it troubles me to see government and industry manipulating public concern about global warming to win votes and make money. They have divided the environmental community, making the environmental lobby weak. I am urging my fellow environmentalists to look
beyond the cleverly painted surface of industrial wind and see the truth that lies beneath – money and votes. I am also urging my fellow Islanders to help protect our economic, environmental, and social fabric from companies like NPI who come here to exploit our beautiful Island.
Many years ago NPI subtly courted local landowners and tempted many of them into signing lease agreements. They told a very one-sided story about the wind industry and what it would mean to lease land for industrial wind turbine installations (I know this because I was present
when NPI approached my family – if only I knew then what I know now).
They were not required to hold public information sessions before they approached landowners, so to the best of my knowledge they did not. I would expect that a group claiming to be great community partners would encourage an open discussion of their plans before having landowners sign leases. I would also expect such noble business people to survey
community acceptance before moving ahead with a project of this type.
While I have no evidence, I fully suspect that they knew our community would reject their plans, and that most landowners would be unwilling to sign on for something that their community (and especially their neighbours) did not support.
NPI have been generally poor in communicating with landowners within the project area. My family’s farm lies within the project area, yet we did not receive notification of public meetings or of changes to the proposed project. The consulting firm hired by NPI (Dillon Consulting Ltd.)
indicated on the Environmental Screening Report (ESR) they prepared for the project that there was a study site on our farm, yet we were never asked for permission to have these people on our property. It seems to me that they either did not want us to know that they were moving forward with the project, or that they did not actually visit the study site as is implied by the ESR. I have also asked to see the calculations used by NPI to determine their financial contribution to our community. After months of waiting I have yet to receive a response. Page 21 of the ESR published in July 2009 estimates a contribution of $11.4 million through
municipal taxes and lease payments to land owners. The brochure published by NPI in July 2010 states a contribution of only $7.84 million through the same payments. These estimates are based on the questionable assumption that the turbines have a useful life of 20 years. While none of these accounts are outright scandalous, they have not instilled in me a great deal of trust in NPI.
NPI and the industrial wind lobby use two main arguments to gain public acceptance: they claim that they produce power that is environmentally friendly, and that they stimulate the economies of the communities that they profit from. In actuality, there is no evidence to suggest that industrial wind farms are having the desired effect on AGW. Also, the
construction of industrial wind farms is environmentally damaging through habitat destruction and fragmentation, habitat degradation, and negative impacts from the construction and transportation of turbine components (extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources, including fossil fuels). Industrial wind farms create some economic stimulus in
communities, however the long term economic impacts are largely unknown.
Furthermore, the wind industry is not held accountable for any of the negative impacts their projects have on the communities that they exploit.
Let us not get overly distracted by the recent debate over AGW. The more pressing issue for our community is deciding whether or not we are willing to accept industrial wind farms owned by off-island corporations.
Our provincial government is pushing wind farms because it wins them votes in the cities, and companies like NPI and their representatives at CanWEA push wind farms for profit: industrial wind farms exist for money and votes, not out of genuine concern for the environment.
Why has habitat conservation taken such a back seat to global warming in the media, and on our government’s agenda? I would argue that it is because it is much harder for governments to boast about job creation, and for industry to profit, from habitat conservation. I would also argue that protecting natural areas would more positively impact AGW than building industrial wind farms. Forests are capable of measurably decreasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases) and bring with them many other environmental benefits.
Clearing forest habitats to build wind farms hardly seems like a wise solution to AGW.
We do not need to feel environmentally irresponsible for standing up against the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm proposed by NPI. If we are interested in developing alternative energies on Manitoulin Island, then let’s do it as a community instead of allowing ourselves to be
exploited by a foreign corporate entity. NPI claims to be meeting or exceeding all environmental, health and safety requirements, which may be true, but they fail to acknowledge that the requirements set by the provincial government are terribly inadequate. NPI is a profit driven group here to harvest wind; they are not the benevolent community partner they claim to be. While they have been approved to sell power from the
proposed McLean’s Mountain project, they have not been approved to install turbines. There is still time to stop this project. Please take the time to inform yourself and let your concerns be known to local and provincial politicians.
Nicolas Harfield, Manitoulin Island