By ED ARNOLD/Managing Editor, Peterborough Examiner
WOLFE ISLAND — From the shoreline of Kingston, Wolfe Island looks so picturesque with tiny windmills twirling along the background of its shores.
The closer you get the reality of those windmills become a science fiction movie scene or as Rob Winslow says “something out of a nightmare.”
Winslow is the founder of the nationally acclaimed outdoor 4th Line Theatre in Cavan Monaghan Township just outside the picturesque, rolling hills of Millbrook that has been home to his family’s farmland for five generations.
It is where he puts on his highly successful plays every summer that attract more than 12,000 people and where he has dedicated the last 20 years of his life building a culturally successful business in a heritage community.
“This is a nightmare. I feel so sick to my stomach for the people who will have to live beside these. I feel their pain and now feel more emotionally involved than ever and more than ever. I am convinced they should not be in our area.” Rob Winslow
Today we are at Wolfe Island to look at the wind turbines in place here since 2008. Winslow has not spoken
publicly about the proposed wind turbines for Millbrook, but now feels he has to not just for his own survival and sanity but for the community’s.
The current plan for wind turbines in Millbrook is five on local lands for which the landowners might receive
$10,000 a year to place just one of them on their property. The landowners have agreed to do this, but didn’t discuss it with their neighbours.
It has become a divisive and controversial issue in Winslow’s township, a community he cares deeply about.
He’s in Wolfe Island where it too was once, and still is, a controversial subject. I’ve offered to take him there to try and discover more about these turbines, to get a better picture.
The picture is ugly and he is now more convinced then ever the turbines shouldn’t be located in neighbourhoods or places with deep, natural beauty and heritage like the rolling hills and creeks of Millbrook.
Maybe along the sides of the 115, but not near homes, not near neighbours.
He shakes his head as we tour the island and stand in the midst of one group. He does a circle and counts 70 of
Them and there are 14 more.
“This is a nightmare. I feel so sick to my stomach for the people who will have to live beside these. I feel their pain and now feel more emotionally involved than ever and more than ever. I am convinced they should not be in our area.”
He doesn’t know if the sound, a constant whoosh sound, will have an impact on his theatre or if their height will allow them to be seen at the theatre, but he does know they could be even 100 feet taller than the 450-foot tall ones at Wolfe Island.
He does know they are ugly, far worse than he expected even after seeing photos and videos.
“This will be a disaster for Millbrook.”
And there are the unknown questions much like Wolfe Island residents have and still have:
If five are built in Millbrook will it mean more in the future?
Will real estate values go down as they did on Wolfe Island where home assessments have dropped by as much as one third?
Are they a health issue?
One gentleman told us his assessment went down $100,000. Sure this means less in taxes, but he sometimes has to close his windows because of the sound and knows the value of the home he built 20 years ago has gone way down. He wonders if he would even be able to sell it.
Who would buy a house dwarfed among these monsters?
Winslow is more determined to meet with the provincial environment minister who will make the decision in Millbrook.
Incredibly, it will not be a local decision. It will not be a municipal council decision and will not be a planning or zoning decision — nor does it need any local approval.
The Green Power Act overrides everything, the province rules. And that stings at Winslow because “they don’t live here and won’t have to live here.”
He says developers should also be worried. Who will move into a subdivision with these ghastly figures in their sights? The municipality should be worried. Who will build or move here with them in their midst?
They are legitimate questions as he surveys the surroundings.
Residents should also worry. They could go up beside them just as easy as the ones proposed on three parcels of land in Millbrook.
Winslow is worried.
“Maybe I will move to Ireland,” he only half jokes.
He worries about the value of his land, his theatre, his neighbours, his community and his future.
Most of all he worries and wonders why these Millbrook sites were chosen.
He has met with the local community committee fighting them.
He has met with Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Rick Johnston, who represents Cavan Monaghan Township and has expressed some sympathy.
He believes deeply in green power. His theatre has no sound system, no electric lighting. He has practised green
“We’re in a cultural heritage theatre and community. Our plays are about the local heritage done in a beautiful rural setting. It is what we are all about. These turbines are not conducive to the community. They are not visually pleasing. The areas they are planning to put these in have streams, rolling hills. The sad part is there is no self or local determination of this, it’s another example of forcing things on a community and its people without any self-determination at all.
“Our council doesn’t favour it and after seeing these, what person would be in favour of them?
“They are so close to homes (450 to 550 feet setbacks were required).
“I’m witnessing this dividing the community, friends and neighbours. What’s most disturbing is this anxiety in
individuals. It breaks down the community, a strong community and that’s unfortunate. You can see and feel the stress people are going through and it’s really difficult to deal with.”
He is stepping forward, as he did with the town hall sale and developers moving into the community, a battle he
participated in for several years and now finds he is joining another one, but says he has no fears of going public.
“I want what’s best for the community and have a successful heritage business and I want it to continue with its
success. This is a complex and complicated story but if it means anything to you, you have to take some kind of position and at least express your concerns and investigate or I would never forgive myself.
“Everyone should have an opinion and express themselves.”
Ironically many of the turbines and the power station on Wolfe Island, a community of about 1,200 people, are on 4th Line Road, which is what his theatre was named after, the original name of the township road now known as Zion Line.
He looks at the creatures, these turbines, and shakes his head that someone could propose five of them in their beautiful community.
He wrote to his MPP: “The proliferation of industrial wind turbines in the proximity of our theatre will be disastrous
for our cultural heritage operation. Sounds from the blades, the flicker effect (sun shining on the blades), and the visual distraction of the structures will take away from and compromise the integrity of our artist aesthetic. Large industrial turbines nearby will likely spell the end or our award-winning community-based professional theatre.”
It’s not clear if the audience will see or hear them, it’s not clear if the province would stop at allowing five or others will be put up in and around the theatre. His theatre is in the middle of the study area and that could mean more turbines, maybe on all sides of it just as they are today where we stand on the island, 86 of them when 24 were first proposed.
The company that built them, TransAlta, calls them “majestic.”
The province is facing complaints and controversy throughout Ontario as the Ontario Power Authority has approved 184 of these projects. In this area they would be located on lands bounded by County Rd. 21, Hwy. 28, Hutchinson Dr. and Zion Line. These are the lands of farmers, retired doctors, people who have recently moved there for peace and quiet, people who have invested more than $1 million to renovate their homes; people who have lived there forever. People.
Wolfe Island residents faced the same issues but they were built anyway.
The power from the turbines in Wolfe Island is shipped by an underwater cable to Kingston. The people in Kingston probably don’t care about the turbines on the island; as long as they can turn up their air conditioners and television sets. He says again, half jokingly but in the same sentence asking, “why would they?”
And wonders “will Peterborough?” And again he asks “why would they? They aren’t located in the city where many people may be desensitized to the wonders of nature.”
Wolfe Island is home to the second largest turbine project in Canada. Each turbine has three massive blades on each base, the highest is 80 metres or 262 feet, the total height of the mast and blade at the top is 415 feet or 125 metres and you can see them for miles away. They are four to six times higher than a farmer’s silo but moving at all times.
While we are there they are moving at about 12 revolutions per minute, you can hear the whoosh but it isn’t
loud. The blades do go four times faster than that. This morning the noise was louder say residents. It really depends on how strong the wind is, which way it is blowing and which way you are facing them.
Residents on Wolfe Island say there are studies going on to see if there are any health hazards but it is too soon for results. They say before the turbines went up there was too much secrecy, little community input and what public meetings there were, were staged, not much more than a courtesy.
The power company says annual energy produced by
them is 594,000 MWh enough to power 75,000 homes annually.
Those figures won’t help communities rise above the permanent planting of these giants.
It probably won’t help that former Ontario environment minister John Gerretsen (and Kingston and The Islands MPP) said when he saw the Wolfe Island turbines that “they are part of the future. It’s a balancing act, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the way to go.”
To get away from coal-fuelled power generating plants. He pointed out an industry-supported study showed no health affects, no health risks and boiled neighbours concerns down to “annoyance.”
“Some people don’t like wind turbines. The vast majority of people do” Gerretsen told the Kingston Whig Standard.
“To me there is a lot of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) involved. Some like the look of them, some don’t.”
As for those who might say sure some people in Millbrook and area are complaining and they are part of the NIMBY, Winslow responds “Yes, and you fight for your backyard; and this township and its people should.”
Winslow also believes their township is part of the province’s beautiful backyard and it should find another place for companies to put their wind turbines.
Maybe along the highways.
The environment minister is on record as saying some people like the looks of the turbines, others don’t.
Count me as one who didn’t. I’d suggest township residents take the 2 ½-hour drive, cross the free ferry off Ontario
St., beside the Tim Hortons and go on this journey, remembering the Wolfe Island project started out as 24. Go to the island and let me know if you would buy a house or build a house there.
And while this is a column about Rob Winslow’s visit to the island, this came across the wire this week in defence of wind energy:
“Investments in wind energy are creating thousands of jobs, driving hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits for rural communities, and creating a cleaner environment — at prices that are competitive with other new sources of electricity, says the Canadian Wind Energy Association in response to recent statements about the cost of electricity by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
“Ontarians are not paying more for clean energy, they are paying more for new energy,” stated Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“Utilities around the world are investing in wind energy because it has already demonstrated it is cost competitive with a number of technologies and will become even more cost-competitive in the future. Over the long term, the cost of wind energy is projected to continue to decline while the costs of other technologies are projected to grow in response to increased fuel costs or environmental regulations like carbon pricing.”
Winslow is not against wind energy or new forms of green energy, he is against what he believes is the slaughter of beautiful communities with no say, none, on where the turbines are located.
We view the huge hydro lines running across fields along our way back on the 401 and liken those visual blights to the turbines, “except,” Winslow says, “they don’t move all day long.”
NOTES: A tax assessment hearing, which began on Wolfe Island earlier this month, could be precedent setting. An Islander couple is claming noise and lights have lowered their property value, the township and Municipal Property Assessment Corporation are opposing the claim. A local real estate agent is quotes as saying: “It’s not so much how much your house is devalued. It’s that you can’t sell it.”
The hearing heard some sales were slow; other sellers got more than the value…. Wolfe Island is the largest of the Thousand Islands.