There has been much public activity from Northland Power (NPI) lately as they scramble to gain approval for the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm. They have been bombarding our local paper with a handful of repeated CanWEA ads (I suppose they could only find a handful of people willing to have their picture attached to these ads) and the laughable “Manitoulin Wind News” column; they are reducing turbine numbers and changing turbine locations; and they are touting the partnership with the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation.
They must see the window of opportunity closing as the scandal that is industrial wind farms is being revealed here, across the province, and around the world.
Despite the fact that the technology for converting wind to electricity has been around for a long time, the same problems that kept it from supplying electricity to consumers when it was first developed continue to cripple today’s wind industry (you guessed it – they are inefficient and unreliable, and practically useless to our current electricity grid until new storage technology is developed). If we allow our Island to be exploited for industrial wind farms we will be seen as one of those communities that was foolish enough to fall for such a ridiculous scam and not as a progressive community that embraced “the winds of change”.
Opponents of the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm have been falsely accused of many things, one being that we do not like the idea of change. We have nothing against change: we support changes that make our community a better place to live, now and far into the future. Keeping the future in mind, we should as an Island community work toward developing our own grid, or create an environment that encourages small businesses and homes to get off-grid. This would be good for the environment, build self-reliance for the people of Manitoulin, and be great for our long-term economy. A handful of small businesses would employ more people locally than the operation of several large wind farms. There are lots of intelligent people on this Island, whom together can make it an even better place than it already is. Island people should be directing the future of Manitoulin, not a provincial government that has turned its back on rural Ontario to win urban votes. Most people living in urban centres will never see the true cost of industrial wind farms.
NPI continues to suggest that our community is generally supportive with numerous yet quiet supporters, and that there are only a few very vocal opponents. How could they know the true sentiment of our community, seeing as how they’ve never asked? I would also like to suggest that proponents tend to be less vocal because good and truthful arguments to be made for placing an industrial wind farm on McLean’s Mountain are few. The only argument proponents seem to be able to support is that the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm is going to pad their pockets.
Another false claim made by proponents of the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm is that industrial wind farms improve the situation of farmers in Ontario. It is worth repeating that anyone, not just farmers, can lease land to wind farm developers. Many farmers in our community, and across Ontario firmly oppose the provinces approach to wind farm development. There are many complex issues (cheap imported food and shifting social values just to name a couple) that make it difficult to earn a living in agriculture; industrial wind farms do nothing to change these issues.
Many NEMI councillors, the MOE and MNR, our Premier, our MPP, and Northland Power have yet to provide any substantial arguments that adequately address the legitimate concerns raised by our community. I have yet to see any of these parties present a decent body of evidence to support their claims. Just to refresh, here is a partial list of concerns that have been brought to the attention of these parties: lack of information sharing with adjacent landowners , lack of public consultation, economic impacts, ecological impacts,, effects on human health, impacts on soil, plant, and wildlife communities during the construction phase of the project, permanent displacement of wildlife, property devaluation, loss of adjacent property owner rights, alteration of groundwater quality and flow. We should not allow this project to move forward until these concerns have been seriously considered and adequately addressed.
The most common concession given to these concerns is that these issues will be “monitored”. In other words, they don’t know what will happen but if there is a problem they will be sure to record it. NPI has never developed a wind farm in a region similar to ours. They often compare their wind development in Murdochville, Quebec with our situation here. How similar can an abandoned mining town on the Canadian Shield be to our Island? The Manitoulin Expositor did interview Ernest Gallen, a resident of Murdochville, who felt the project had a positive impact on their community, though it must be acknowledged that this is only the testament of one person. How many in the community share the views of this man’s testament? Looking at satellite imagery of Murdochville gives the impression that the turbines are placed well away from the community, unlike the proposed McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm, which is enveloped by several communities.
The front page article in the February 23rd edition of The Expositor, titled “Northland shrinks size of wind farm; turbines removed or relocated on ridge over Honora Bay”, made NPI look like the benevolent community partners they continue to attempt to disguise themselves as. When a turbine location is changed to lessen the impact on one landowner, the burden is simply placed upon another. Also, according to the map on page 16 of the same publication, turbines have not been moved a full kilometre from all residences of Townline Road in Sheguiandah. Turbine locations also infringe upon future building envelopes that have been planned since before NPI started approaching local landowners, and that NPI is aware of. It will be interesting to see if NPI attempts to increase the number of turbines on McLean’s Mountain through several additional wind farms, should they gain approval for this first one.
We should also take note of an interesting discrepancy in how the UCCM and NPI view their new partnership. In an interview with The Expositor (printed in the February 9th edition) Chief Joe Hare stated that the UCCM had to approach NPI a second time before receiving a response from the off-Island corporation. In contrast to this apparent reluctance to partner with an Island organization, Northland CEO John Brace, in an interview with The Expositor, (printed in the February 16th edition) is noted as stating that “Northland was on board immediately” with the UCCM offer of partnership. I can only speculate that NPI was forced to form a partnership with the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation if they had any hope of gaining public support from Island residents, and approval from the provincial government.
I firmly believe that one has the right to use and enjoy their property so long as it does not inhibit the use and enjoyment, or diminish the quality of the environment of neighbouring properties. What our provincial government and companies like NPI fail to concede is that industrial wind turbines do inhibit the use and enjoyment of neighbouring lands, and do have a negative impact on the environment. Setbacks from property lines need to be increased; people do not buy large parcels of land so that they can spend all of their time in a house. Our land is an important part of our homes, our lifestyles, and our Island heritage and culture. I think I speak for more than myself when I say that I chose to build a life on Manitoulin Island because it is a peaceful and beautiful place. The people I know who want to move here feel the same way. We live in a very special place and we need to protect it from large-scale industrialization, especially where off-Island corporations are involved.
We need to hold Northland Power, our political representatives, and our municipal decision-makers accountable. We need to demand that they make public the information being used to justify support for this project. We also need these parties to make some guarantees about the future of our community as it is not clear whom is accountable should our community experience the negative impacts that have been brought to the attention of these parties. With Northland vying for approval to develop McLean’s Mountain, it is a critical time for people to voice their concerns.
Those wishing to have their voices heard should send letters, as soon as possible, to: Premier Dalton McGuinty , MPP Mike Brown , Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, as well as representatives of the MOE, MNR and Northeast Town Council. We live on a truly spectacular Island, and we are responsible for keeping it that way.
Nic Harfield, Manitoulin Island