‘Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
That’s how it sounds in Ed and Gail Kenney’s home when the wind is blowing on Wolfe Island where they have 86 turbines as neighbours.
Completed last summer, the Wolfe Island EcoPower Centre can generate 198 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 75,000 homes per year.
The Kenneys know better than anyone how wind turbines can change a place. Their home sits 800 metres from a cluster of turbines — a setback they say isn’t enough.
They’re playing the cards North Gower’s Gary Chandler worries he’ll soon be dealt. His home is also about 800 metres from the closest turbine of a proposed 10-megawatt wind project in that town, about 30 minutes south of downtown Ottawa.
Chandler and members of the community’s wind action group are fighting the project and calling for a moratorium on wind development until an independent health study is conducted.
Had the province’s Green Energy Act, enacted in May 2009, been approved in the summer of 2008 when construction began on Wolfe Island, Gail Kenney says the setbacks would have likely been much further from many homes on the island.
Under the legislation, the 550-metre setback is for developments of five turbines. The greater number of installations, the further the setbacks are as noise effects become compounded.
The Kenneys have 26 turbines in view of their home.
“We take a guesstimate that the setback would have been 1.5 km,” says Gail Kenney, who is also a founding member of Wolfe Island Residents for the Environment — a group of concerned residents seeking more transparency in the development process.
The project generates about $645,000 annually for the municipality. Landowners, meanwhile, receive an estimated $7,000 to $10,000 for each turbine erected on their properties.
She says the turbines have created deep divisions between proponents who’ve agreed to have turbines erected on their properties and those opposed to the power project. In what was a very tight-knit community, many now can hardly look each other in the eye.
“It makes me angry and sad. It makes me concerned and worried. To be specific, it makes me angry how it has divided our community and created pain and anguish for a lot of families and friends,” Gail Kenney says.
Even more troubling, she adds, are the health issues many are suffering. The stress of not knowing whether the turbines are safe is taking its toll, she says.
Victoria Stewart, originally from Montreal, moved to the island about six years ago. Since the turbines went up, she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep and is constantly tense and anxious. Her house sits only 400 metres from the closest turbine.
“The silence at night was just out of this world. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be waking up to the sound of a huge windmill behind me. Never.
“It just makes you terribly nervous,” she says of the noise. “You can’t sleep. I take a lot of sleeping pills from time to time only because my nerves can’t take it and I have to work.”
Depending on the direction and wind speed, the noise can be described as anything from rhythmic waves crashing on the beach or a jet engine. While they might appear to be rotating slowly from across the water in Kingston, Ed Kenney points out the tips speed of the turbines’ rotors reach more than 320 km/h on a windy day.
“It’s a disturbance of the atmosphere … a ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump,” Gail Kenney says.
On top of the noise, there are concerns here about property values, too.
The island’s story, she says, illustrates how a seemingly modest plan can easily grow in scale and forever change a community. The 198-megawatt Wolfe Island wind turbine project began with 24 turbines and grew to 86. It’s the second-largest wind energy installation in the country.
The lack of political action, she says, is disheartening.
“It certainly makes you feel that you’ve been bulldozed over.”
Soon, Wolfe Islanders might share their cherished St. Lawrence Seaway with 150 more turbines offshore — a first for the province. The project, proposed by Windstream Energy Inc. in Burlington, was also awarded a FIT contract for the 300-megwatt installation.
A longtime sailor, Ed Kenney says with the combined projects proposed for the eastern shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence in the U.S., wind installations will ruin the landscape he and Gail have enjoyed for so long.
“With the development on Wolfe Island, with the developments proposed for Cape Vincent down the river and on down behind Clayton and Horse Creek, at the Town of Lyme and Galoo Island, we figure by count if they all went the whole eastern estuary of Lake Ontario just east of Oswego all the way around would be 1,700 or 1,800 of them,” he says. “Is that really what the future of the beautiful 1,000 Islands holds?”
“I feel like we’re in the middle of an invasion,” Gail says. “What they have done is introduced into our home and into our area industrial noise.”