by Rob O’Flanagan, Guelph Mercury
FERGUS — A massive protest greeted officials from wpd Canada in Fergus Tuesday evening, and flowed into the renewable energy developer’s open house on the proposed Springwood Wind Project (formerly known as Belwood Wind Farm), a four turbine wind energy system planned for agricultural land in the northwest corner of Centre Wellington.
Upwards of 1,000 people, several horses and a wagon filled with manure occupied the front parking lot of the Centre Wellington Sportsplex on Belsyde Ave E. at around dinner time Tuesday. The manure wagon was used to ridicule premier Dalton McGuinty’s renewable energy policies.
Hardy protesters, many of them agricultural people, defied a downpour and shouted approval for speakers who warned against suspected human health hazards associated with wind turbine noise, and the threat the giant windmills have on birds and bats.
Many worry that property values will plummet if the turbines go up, and protest organizers bemoaned the lack of local control over what are largely Government of Ontario mandated energy projects.
At around 6:30, a horsewoman in a Lady Godiva bodysuit made an appearance. She, along with Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, led the protesters into the Sportsplex where wpd Canada, a subsidiary of the German parent company, had set up a series of displays related to the project. Officials were on hand to answer questions, and many of those questions were delivered in angry or anxious tones.
The company, active for just four years in Canada, but established in 21 countries around the world, has two other projects on the go in Ontario, comprising its first ventures into Ontario wind energy generation.
“We have had this imposed on us as a municipality,” Ross-Zuj said in an interview, “and we really want a chance to say that it is not appropriate for this area.”
The lack of local input, she said, has forced residents to make their statement through protest.
The lobby leading into the auditorium was packed with people, many holding signs that read “Wind turbines make bad neighbours,” or “No industrial wind turbines.” Images of bats, and some rubber ones, were also used to symbolize the perceived hazard winged animals face from the blades of turbines.
“I’m thrilled with the number of people who are here, because this is the way we have to make this statement,” Ross-Zuj said, adding that Centre Wellington is a tourism area, and wind turbines “are not conducive to tourism,” but rather detract from the beauty of the local landscape.
She and several others said there is no clear understanding of the possible negative impacts wind turbines may have on human health or things like dairy operations. Centre Wellington called on the province to issue a moratorium on the project pending further research, but heard nothing in return, Ross-Zuj said.
Kelly-Ann McKnight, a farmer and mother of four young children, said there is enough anecdotal evidence to show that people are being harmed by wind turbines. The four proposed turbines will essentially surround the farm owned by her and husband David Mulligan.
“My question is which of my four beautiful children is going to be sick when they put up four monstrosities around my farm? There is no answer to that question,” she said.
Malcolm McCulloch, an area landowner, said his main concern is that local officials are being overridden by the province, and there has been no consideration of local desires. The project is also a bad deal for landowners, he said, adding that the project is widely opposed.
“These windmills are being put where nobody wants them,” he said. “They’re picking on cash-strapped landowners to put these windmills in, but what the landowners don’t realize is that their property is going to be devalued.”
Oppose Belwood Wind Farm Association member Laura Humphrey said there are simply too many unknowns about the wind turbines. She said the only two people who seem to support the project are those landowners being paid to have the turbines on their farms.
“The reason we are totally opposed is that it is very risky for our community and for the people who live around it,” she said, explaining that there is no study to show that the proposed 550 meter set-back of the turbines from homes is safe.
She said Centre Wellington is “absolutely determined” to stop wpd Canada, because if the project goes ahead others will surely follow.
“There are a lot of early studies that show people get really sick at that distance,” she added. “They think it is potentially from the low frequency noise, potentially the infrasound, or potentially the shadow flicker. What often happens with people is they get sleep disturbances.”
Kevin Surette, wpd Canada’s spokesperson, speaking over a din of protest chants, said the four turbines will each have a 2.05 megawatt capacity and will be 100 meters high with a blade length of 45 meters.
He said the exact placement of the turbines has not been determined at this point, pending consideration of various conditions under the Green Energy Act.
“For us, the open house is an opportunity to provide the information to the community about our project, to let them know who we are, and to gain feedback and answer any concerns or questions people may have,” he said.
As part of the renewable energy approval process, all studies related to the project must be submitted to the government before final approval is granted, he explained.
“Certainly there are a number of concerns out there,” he added. “For us it is good that we are here to listen to those concerns. A number of public health officials have looked at the existing information that’s out there and have determined there is no causal link between turbines and the reported health effects.”
He said studies show there is no evidence that the presence of a wind turbine negatively impacts the sale of homes.