Lake Huron cottagers from Goderich to Kincardine fear their famed sunsets and tourism-based economies will be overshadowed by energy companies looking to build wind turbines offshore.
Residents are organizing to fight an enemy whose face and plans aren’t entirely clear: Bureaucrats at Queen’s Park say they’ve received 12 applications to build offshore wind farms, but won’t disclose which companies made the proposals, where exactly the turbines would be located or how big the operations might be.
The potential size of the operations is apparent in a 2008 report prepared by an energy company for the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), an agency tasked by the province with finding new sources of energy.
The report found 20 sites in the lakes around Ontario, some in Lake Huron, that could support 160 turbines each, as well as more than 40 smaller sites. “They’re just shoving this stuff down our throats,” said Ross Klopp, a Collingwood resident with a cottage on Bruce Beach, south of Kincardine. Ontario’s Environment Ministry has proposed rules for offshore turbines and given citizens and companies until Aug. 24 to respond.
“Nobody is telling anybody anything and the deadline is fast approaching,” said Cam Spooner of Arva who has a cottage with a view of the lake south of Kincardine.
Spooner and Klopp are among cottagers who only learned in recent weeks that the Environment Ministry in June proposed rules for wind turbines that would include a five-km buffer between development and the shoreline.
The turbines would be part of a broader effort by Ontario’s Liberal government to seek alternative sources of energy to replace closing coal-fired plants — the OPA has set a target of using wind to generate 15% of the province’s energy needs.
Many wind farms have already been built on land and there’s a proposal for a $1.1-billion operation — Ontario’s largest — in Lambton and Huron counties. As land for turbines is claimed, often with local opposition, the potential market for offshore turbines, which are more costly, grows.
Along the Huron shore, a citizens’ group called Huron-Kinloss Against Lakeside Turbines — HALT, for short — says its membership has swelled by 100 in just the past few days.
Those concerned include London Coun. Joni Baechler, who has a cottage south of Kincardine.
Baechler was able to get from the ministry website a map that showed where some proposed wind farms might go, some less than one km from shore, but the map is no longer on the website.
The map’s removal and the lack of details lend the appearance of a government pushing ahead without citizen input, she said.
“It feels more like public relations than community consultation,” she said.
Baechler said a five-km buffer isn’t enough, noting she can see from the beach to the Bruce Nuclear complex, perhaps 30 km away.
Klopp says he wrote of his concerns to Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell, whose riding includes the affected Huron shoreline, but received what appeared to be a form letter praising green energy but ignoring local concerns.
Mitchell, who doubles as Ontario’s agriculture minister, couldn’t respond Tuesday to Free Press questions because she was at a conference, an aide said.
Cottagers outlined concerns beyond the threat to beautiful vistas and tourism:
- Lakefront property values will plummet and those who live inland will have to pay a much greater share of property taxes.
- The wind turbines, which typically stand 150 metres high to the tip of their blades, will disrupt boating and require horns or lights that will disturb those who live along the shore.
- Migratory birds will be threatened.
- The only turbines used offshore were designed for salt water areas in Europe, not fresh water lakes where ice build-up is substantial.
Told of concerns, a spokesperson for another ministry involved — Natural Resources — responded.
“Expanding Ontario’s clean and renewable sources of energy is key to the government’s plan to phase out coal fire generations, combat climate change and create a stronger, greener economy,” ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski wrote.
Private operators would have to pay the Ontario government to create offshore operations since the lake is Crown property, she said.
Questions about public input, Kowalski referred to the Environment Ministry, whose officials couldn’t be reached late Tuesday.