By Matthew Van Dongen, St. Catherines Standard
Cam Pritchard knows he can’t stop the wind. But the West Lincoln resident is hoping he and a few hundred neighbours can slow it down, just enough.
Pritchard, an organizer with the newly formed West Lincoln Wind Action Group, is fighting a planned wind farm slated for the western edge of town, mostly because of health and property value concerns. At first glance, it looks like they’re spitting into the wind. The developer, Vineland Wind Power, already has a provincial contract in hand and hopes to begin erecting 100-metre-tall windmills next spring.
But Pritchard doesn’t think his group needs to kill the government- backed project all by themselves — although they’ll give it a shot.
The looming provincial election may finish the job, he suspects. “We think the government is under pressure and they need to start taking direction from the people who pay their wages,” said Pritchard, who helped organize a community meeting about the planned wind farm that attracted more than 350 people to a Caistor Centre school in early November.
“If they don’t, next fall maybe voters will give them a new direction.”
Pritchard is hoping his MPP, Tory Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, will win the 2011 election and short-circuit the Liberal government’s controversial Green Energy Act, which took responsibility for vetting wind projects out of the hands of local governments.
Hudak has criticized wind and solar subsidies as too costly for ratepayers and vowed to restore local decision-making powers to municipal governments. The Progressive Conservatives also put forward a motion this year calling for a moratorium on new wind projects until an “independent, comprehensive” study on the effects of living near turbines is completed.
Words like moratorium “scare” windmill fans like Larry Dykstra, a St. Catharines-based partner in the planned West Lincoln wind farm along with developer Independent Power Corp.
“Sure, that worries me,” he said. “That would mean our project would stop, and I have to tell you, we’ve worked really hard on it and followed all the rules that (the province) has laid out for us.”
There are currently three potential wind farms in the planning stages in Niagara, including two in Wainfleet. Dykstra said he isn’t surprised some people are protesting the projects, calling some opposition inevitable. But he admitted to being “taken off guard” by the numbers and vehemence of Caistor Centre meeting participants.
He understands, for example, why some people would be riled at the notion of local governments being cut out of the decision-making equation by provincial legislation, although he’s generally a fan of “common rules for everyone to follow.”
Dykstra added he has no problem with the province doing further studies on how windmills affect neighbouring communities.
“But what I don’t like is the alarmist rhetoric. To just shout out to anyone who will listen that (wind farms) cause significant health issues, that’s not right. That’s speculation at best.”
Tom Rankin also feels the wind industry “is getting a bad knock that isn’t justified.”
The owner of St. Catharinesbased Rankin Construction has been working with Niagara Region to build a five-turbine, 10-megawatt wind farm in Wainfleet for more than six years.
Rankin, who still doesn’t have a provincial go-ahead yet, said some residents may have “legitimate concerns” about incoming wind turbines, but others “are political people with axes to grind.”
“I got into this with the idea of improving my grandkids’ health, of cleaning the air. I haven’t seen any studies that prove to me there is a health risk associated with living near these turbines,” he said. “If it’s ever proved, I’ll be the first to apologize. But right now, I don’t see any proof at all.”
In November, the West Lincoln group brought in residents living near existing wind farms including Stephana Johnston, a retired school teacher from Long Point. Johnson complained about insomnia and feeling disoriented when living in her home within a few kilometres of 18 industrial turbines.
Other speakers cited health studies from Australia and other countries that purport to show a link between low-level turbine noise and health problems in residents. They also decried the lack of Ontariobased research and panned a recent wind-industry funded study that claims turbine noise and shadow flicker is harmless.
Dykstra said he puts his faith in the May literature review from Ontario’s medical officer of health, as well as a similar report from Niagara’s public health department, that concluded “there is no direct causal link between turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
“It’s one thing to attack the credibility of an industry report, but the medical officer of health? I find that a stretch,” he said.
Until there is more independent, local research, residents are right to worry about politics trumping health concerns, Pritchard said.
But he added residents in his area are also worried about property values.
“You want to put a bunch of turbines up near my house that are 50 stories high, and you don’t want to give me or (the municipality) any say where they go? Yeah, I’d say that’s a concern for us, too,” he said.
Dykstra said his group is looking at scheduling a public meeting in the new year on the project. He’s hoping concerned residents will bring “reasonable questions” to the meeting.