By Paul Morden, The Sarnia Observer
Wind farm opponents have withdrawn their appeal of Ontario’s approval of a four-turbine Zephyr Farms project near Watford. Several weeks of hearings were scheduled to begin next week in Alvinston. Esther Wrightman, with the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group, said it made the decision to withdraw its appeal Thursday following a recent pre-hearing decision by the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal.
That came after the Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment submitted “about 170 questions” about medical, real estate and other records the government wanted answered by 23 witnesses the wind group planned to call at the hearings.
Wrightman said the tribunal ruled, just six days before the start of the hearings, that it wanted to see the information the ministry requested.
“It’s like being tripped on the last lap of your race,” Wrightman said.
Gathering and compiling all of the information being sought before the hearing date wasn’t possible, Wrightman said.
“As much as we’d like to, it would have been a shoddy job,” she said. “You have to do it right.”
Going ahead with the hearings, in light of what the tribunal said, wouldn’t have been fair to the group’s witnesses, Wrightman said.
They included people living in communities around Ontario where wind farms are already up and operating.
A lack of clear rules at the tribunal make it a challenge for group’s filing appeals, Wrightman said.
“They’re not specific in the way they run it and they clearly say when you’re there, “Well, you know what, we’re just learning as we go here.’”
But, Wrightman said the lessons learned this time can be used by the group’s lawyer, and other wind opponents, in future appeals of other wind energy projects.
“At least we have a clearer vision of what they want to see,” she said.
If the tribunal rules a renewable energy project will cause serious harm to human health, or the environment, it can revoke or alter the approval given by the province.
The launch of the wind action group’s appeal didn’t stop work on the Zephyr Farms project at Ebenezer Road and Churchill Line in Brooke-Alvinston. Crews have been working through the winter to erect the four turbines for Mississauga-based Green Breeze Energy.
It’s vice-president, Brent Hall, said company officials were happy to hear the appeal has been withdrawn.
“Now, we can just focus on finishing the project and starting to produce power,” he said.
“Three turbines are up and the fourth one will be going up shortly.”
Connection to the electricity grid should also be in place within a week to allow testing to start, he said.
“Hopefully by the end of March, we’re producing power.”
As for claims made by wind turbine opponents, Hall said, “There is no medical evidence out there that wind turbines cause any effect at all to human health.”
Wrightman said she feels disappointed, particularly following the work the group and its lawyer put into the appeal.
“The worst of it is knowing that turbines are going up and they didn’t get that day in court,” she said.
“It feels like you’ve been somewhat robbed. It’s not a great feeling at all.”
Wrightman said group members were looking forward to putting their case against industrial wind turbines before the tribunal.
“It will happen,” she said, “Just not right now and not here.”