By Brian Shypula, Stratford Beacon Herald Staff
DRAYTON — Organizers expect hundreds of people at a protest rally against a proposed wind farm in Environment Minister John Wilkinson’s riding later this month.
Although it’s a coincidence — the wind farm has been in the works for more than two years and Wilkinson has been environment minister only since August — the attention underscores a rift between rural residents of windy Southwestern Ontario and Queen’s Park.
“Mr. Wilkinson is starting to get a black name in rural Ontario, at least up here,” said Dunc Lamond of the group Stop Mapleton Wind Farms.
Lamond said he is frustrated the Liberal government isn’t listening to the concerns of rural Ontarians and rural municipalities about wind farms.
“The Green Energy Act has taken away the say of local people,” he complained.
The Western Ontario Wardens Caucus, which represents 14 western Ontario municipalities, made the same point in September, arguing wind farm developers are ignoring municipal councils in the placement of turbine installations because the province is the regulating body.
The citizens group HEAT — Huron East Against Turbines — is fighting against a wind farm proposed for Huron County east of St. Columban. A meeting in Clinton in September drew about 600 to 1,000 people.
Huron East is hosting a meeting of municipalities on Tuesday with the intent of drafting a bylaw on low-frequency noise.
The protest outside the PMD arena in Drayton coincides with an information meeting being held inside by NextEra Energy.
NextEra, North America’s largest energy company, wants to build a 10-turbine, 22-megawatt wind farm in Mapleton Township southwest of Arthur.
“They’ve been less than forthright because they’ve contacted us twice in two years, let’s put it that way. They have not brought us as a township council into the loop,” said Mapleton Mayor John Green, who is also a member of the Western Wardens.
Lamond lives less than 900 metres from the site of a turbine tower. While that’s farther than the 550-metre minimum distance mandated by the province, Lamond isn’t convinced it’s safe.
“I’m concerned about my health,” said the farmer, who added he’s been reading about the dangers of low-frequency noise from the giant turbines.
Lamond is also concerned about the negative impact the wind farm will have on surrounding land values. His family has operated a mixed farm in Mapleton since 1969.
Human health is the main concern, but Mapleton also has to think about the impact on farm animals, Green said. The township has the fifth-largest livestock population in Ontario and is home to many dairy, chicken, beef and hog farms.
“Our concerns are probably twofold, not only human health but animal health because that’s the lifeline of our rural population around here,” Green said.
Green said conflicting information about safety of wind farms is a problem. For every report that says they cause health problems, there is a counter report saying they’re safe.
Wilkinson defended the Green Energy Act yesterday, saying it is the first legislation of its kind in North America and is intended to balance the need for renewable energy sources and human health.
Asked if wind farms are safe, Wilkinson said, “Yes, and I say that if a wind farm is built in the province of Ontario under the new, strict minimum distance setback and maximum noise allowance setback, then according to the chief medical officer of health for Ontario, Dr. Arlene King, they are indeed safe.”
The minister stressed that the province will not give a wind farm project the go ahead unless the developer meets all the criteria in the Green Energy Act, which includes giving residents and municipalities a “meaningful” say.
However, just because a municipality and/or its citizens are against a project doesn’t mean the province will turn it down.
Green said he’d vote against a wind farm if his electorate were against it.
“I’m elected to support the people at home here, not the people that are promoting wind farms for capital gain,” he said.
The Drayton rally is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the arena, located on Wellington St. S.