Drafty reception for wind farm development
Megan O’Toole, National Post Published: September 03, 2009
A group of Manitoulin Island residents is taking on a Toronto-based energy company, accusing Northland Power Inc. of fast-tracking a wind farm project without proper consultation.
The dispute is the latest sign of a groundswell of unease over wind power projects in the province have been highly critical of the effects of such development on local communities.
Northland’s plan for a segment of northeastern Manitoulin is to build a 43-turbine wind station that would generate 77 megawatts of power, to be fed into the provincial power grid. The turbines would be clustered on the Honora and McLean’s Mountain regions, identified by the Ontario Power Authority as high potential areas for harnessing wind power. Al Ryan, who works at the local newspaper in Manitoulin and is one of the project’s most vocal opponents, says Northland has essentially “bulldozed” its plan over the community with little opportunity for a meaningful public response.
His group believes the company is rushing to avoid a set of guidelines limiting the scope of wind farm development, which the Ontario government plans to incorporate into its newly minted Green Energy Act — a claim Northland disputes.
But with many residents concerned about aesthetics, potential health impacts and property devaluations, Mr. Ryan said, the government should step in to slow the process down, allowing for further study.
“We’re very disturbed with the fact that they can just come into small communities and we can have so little input,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s just about money, another big money project, when we should be thinking about what the realities of environmental change are.”
Kyla Jansen, who runs horse-riding tours in Honora, says she has suffered adverse effects from windmills in the past — including chest tightness and changes in heart rate. Local artist and handyman Michael Machum says his property adjacent to one of the turbine sites would become “worthless” once the facility is built because of the excessive noise.
Northland held a public meeting in late June to present its plans, leaving citizens a few weeks to formulate a response. The company’s project manager, Rick Martin, says the level of consultation has been sufficient, pointing out that most of the wind farm’s 6,000-acre footprint would be comprised of agricultural land, with few residences directly interspersed.
The negativity surrounding the project is linked to a campaign of misinformation, Mr. Martin said, including claims about health impacts that are not necessarily based in sound science.
Provided the $250-million project meets with government approval, work could begin as early as next year. Landowners who have signed on to the deal would collectively receive more than $7-million over the next two decades in exchange for allowing turbines on their properties, the company said.
In the meantime, the provincial Environment Ministry is continuing to tweak a set of regulations needed to fully implement the Green Energy Act, which was passed in May. Among those regulations are clauses limiting the scope of wind farm projects, including a proposed 550-metre setback zone stipulating the distance turbines must be constructed from anything deemed a “sensitive receptor” — such as a residence, church or school. The sound threshold at that distance would be 40 decibels.
Northland is already in compliance with that regulation, Mr. Martin said.
Some projects may be exempt from the Act’s provisions, depending on how far along they are, a spokeswoman with the Environment Ministry said, but she did not believe Northland fell into that category.