By John Devine, Owen Sound Sun Times
The province didn’t fully consider the work municipalities have done to promote such things as tourism while it was developing the Green Energy Act, say some opponents of large-scale wind turbine developments.
It’s a miscalculation the Liberal government at Queen’s Park will come to regret, suggests former Meaford councillor Cynthia Lemon.
“When they developed the Green Energy Act, they didn’t look at what municipalities were doing in terms of their own economic development, which includes tourism,” she said. “The municipality of Meaford has invested a great deal of time and effort into studying what would work. . . to broaden our tax base, reduce taxes for local citizens and create jobs. This has the potential to completely undermine what we were doing.
“I think the province didn’t think very clearly or thoughtfully about the negative impact on municipalities, and they’re going to have to address that.”
The Act streamlines the approvals process for wind-energy projects by laying out a series of steps that must be completed, including public information sessions and preliminary project viability tests.
Critics complain the Act side-l ines municipalities in the approvals process.
Lemon introduced a motion at Meaford council about a year ago calling for a moratorium on new wind farms until further studies into health problems some claim are linked to the developments are done. Her motion failed, but a revised motion put forward by Lemon and Coun. Harley Greenfield was later adopted.
“As we escalated towards the municipal election, things started to heat up again. I think as it became apparent that it was more of a political issue than people thought, there was more engagement in what was happening.”
Jim Brunow, a founder of Wind Concerns Meaford, hopes the new council will “work with us to hold a public meeting” to air local reaction to wind-energy developments, and will also consider the impact wind farms might have on local economic development.
He said a September 2009 study from Prince Edward County’s economic development officer on the long-term economic impact of wind farms in that region resonates locally.
“There is a proposal there (Prince Edward County) for anywhere from 100 to 200 turbines. And in the report they say this could very well be the most important issue of the next 20 years for (the county) and its economy.”
The study, says Brunow, indicates the long-term economic upside was about $1 million to $2 million, whereas the economic downside was $2.5 million to $40 million in lost annual revenue from local business and from the municipal tax base.
“They concluded that owth was contingent upon quality-of-life attributes — their tourism, their arts, their culture, their scenic values. I think that is something that is equally, if not more true, here.”
With Meaford recently hiring its own economic development officer, Brunow says he’d like to see a similar study done for this region.
Lemon sees the issue from a political perspective, but also a community one. She lives near Silcote Corners, where International Power Canada plans a 26- turbine, 48.6-megawatt project. The company planned a 29-turbine, 52.2-megawatt development, but it was scaled back.
Lemon’s family has 70 acres of land “right smack in the middle” of the proposed wind farm.
“They’re all going to be very visible. We’re a concession over from the second concession where Silcote is, so we’re going to see those turbines from our back veranda and to the north.”
No one, she says, came knocking on their door asking if they’d be interested in signing up for some turbines of their own, due, most likely she says, to her vocal opposition to them.
Property owners who agree to have turbines on their land for a standard 20-year period are paid.
“I think there is a concern that farming is difficult, and yes this provides some income, but is that immediate income worth the long-term impact on the community?”
While proponents of wind energy say there is no documented evidence linking wind turbines to health problems, Lemon contends “there has to be some form of impact,” even if it’s caused by the stress of living near something you simply don’t want around.
“There are more and more studies that indicate that stress alone has a huge impact on health.”
The former councillor wonders why the province doesn’t turn to an existing source of renewable energy, instead of pursuing a strategy that, she says, creates community tension.
“I’m not exactly sure why we would plop down something that is so divisive when you have a nuclear facility relatively close to us that has huge potential for long-term betterment of communities in terms of job creation and power. Why are we creating community risk, health risk, and financial risk (through decreased property values) for people when Bruce Power is right next door?”
Opposition to wind farms is as much emotional as it is intellectual, said Lemon. That could partially account for the determined resistance to them.
“It changes the whole dynamic of where we live and who you are when you plunk these honking big things down. And that alone is distressing.”
The actual process of signing up leases creates its own tensions, as it pits neighbour against neighbour — those who want turbines on their land and who will benefit financially against those who don’t, and won’t, said Brunow.
“People who are approached to sign leases, if they do get involved, are asked to sign confid e nt i a l i t y agreements. They can’t tell their best friend or their neighbour, and it creates a real division in the community.”
Often the first a community hears of a potential wind farm is when the public notification process required by the province begins, or when news circulates that landowners are being approached to sign leases, he says.
“There are salespeople all over Ontario signing people up to leases. None of these show up. There are many more projects in the pipeline, in the early stages that we aren’t aware of, because there is a veil of secrecy around it.”
He contends that as more people react to rising hydro rates, the government’s renewable- energy strategy could become an election issue.
“When you take a look at the fact they are paying as much as 80 cents a kilowatt-hour for renewable energy, and I’ve read that this year our average (hydro) cost is closer to four cents, you can really see where these energy prices are going.”
Producers of solar energy were originally offered contracts of 80.2 cents a kilowatt-hour. The government later reduced the rate for most producers to 58.8 cents a kilowatt-hour, but those who signed contracts for the higher rate will have them honoured. Wind-energy producers are guaranteed a rate of 13.5 cents a kilowatt-hour.
“I think as people realize just how expensive this is . . . it will be a big election issue.”