South Branch Wind Farm: Is there a middle ground

 

“I want to be fair to both sides. I advise council that you read both sides of the story,” said South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds at the December 6th, 2011 council meeting. 

Byvelds was referring to a request for help earlier in the night from the South Branch Wind Opposition Group (SBWOG), a group formed in late 2011 and composed of several residents living in close proximity to Prowind Canada’s planned South Branch Wind Farm  near Brinston.

On January 10th, Prowind Canada held their final public meeting at Matilda Hall in Dixon’s Corners, giving all sides the opportunity to ask questions, get answers, and voice concerns.

The meeting took place after The Leader’s Tuesday press deadline and news from the event will be covered in the January 18th edition. 

For now, however, it may help to get an idea of where things stand on both sides of the proverbial fence. Unfortunately, there seems to be an abundance of conflicting information floating around telling two completely different versions of the same story, each with its own ‘evidence’ for support.

Without getting caught up in this debate over verifiable facts, the more pertinent question seems to be: What does the South Branch Wind Opposition Group want to achieve? The Leader spoke with a representative for the opposition group, Bruce Albers, on January 6th.

According to Albers, SBWOG wants “a halt to all projects until a third party epidemiological study proves they are safe.”

“There is no compromise when it comes to the health of my family and livestock,” he added.

From the research he has done, Albers believes that the construction of wind farms “causes harm to residents, decreases property values, does not decrease GHGs (green house gas emissions), is inefficient and expensive.”

If that is true, then why are wind farms becoming so prevalent in Ontario? According to Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario, a friend of SBWOG, “its all about that subsidy. They’re here for the money and that’s it.”

The subsidy Wilson is talking about is covered under the Liberal government’s Feed-in tariff (FIT) Program, enabled by the Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009. 

According to their own literature, the FIT program is a “guaranteed pricing structure for renewable electricity production. Prices are designed to cover project costs and allow for a reasonable return on investment over the contract term.”

The companies producing the wind farms can expect 13.5 cents per kilowatt return. Wilson pointed out that Quebec is selling hydro power for a mere six cents per kilowatt, leaving Ontarians paying 7.5 cents per kilowatt too much.

She also said that the South Branch Wind Farm project will include 626 foot tall turbines, making them “among the largest in North America.”

The reason for the increased height of the South Branch turbines, according to Wilson, is to compensate for the fact that there is little wind in the area and, so, the turbines need to be taller to pick up the increased winds at a higher altitude.

On the other side of the fence, however, Prowind Canada maintains their good intentions. In October 2011, Cathy Weston, former Managing Director of Prowind Canada, said the South Branch Wind Farm is “a great step forward in renewable energy.”

She maintained that the company is open and honest with the public in an effort to be responsible and transparent.

In a phone interview on January 9th, Jeffrey Segal, Weston’s recent replacement at Prowind Canada, voiced the same message saying that Prowind is available and listening to concerns from the public and, in fact, have already taken some concerns under advisement and made changes.

Segal pointed out that minimum government requirement for distance between homes and turbines is 550 metres. Prowind’s turbines average over 700 metres, he said. 

In October, Weston told The Leader that only two houses come within 600 metres of a turbine and the rest are at least one kilometre (1,000 metres) away.

In response to the height of the wind turbines, Segal informed that “no turbines have been selected” as of yet.

He acknowledged that there are bits of “misinformation” out there that have “gotten blown out of proportion from reality.” He reminded that the final meeting, in addition to the several meetings leading up to this, is an opportunity for “anyone with concerns over the project” to ask questions.

The point of the meeting, he said, is to ensure that “people who have genuine concerns have a forum.”

Segal admitted to not having heard of the South Branch Wind Opposition Group before the January 9th interview.

In response to what Prowind Canada would do should issues arise for residents after the wind farm goes into operation, Segal said, the issues will be “dealt with in a structured and transparent way.”

He pointed out that there are mandatory protocols in place for possible issues. 

Prowind Canada, as Weston pointed out in October, “wants to do things properly.” 

“We don’t want to have issues,” said Segal.  In an effort to avoid them, he claims Prowind Canada is doing things properly from the start.

In an effort to be transparent, at each of their public meetings, Prowind Canada has provided  ‘unbiased’ reports, displays, and documents for anyone to peruse.

In fact, for the question and answer period of the January 10th meeting, as advertised, the panel featured Dr. Loren Knopper, co-author of Health effects and wind turbines: A review of the literature.

In an interesting twist, both Wilson and Albers pointed to the Prowind Canada expert as proof of their conviction that wind farms are harmful to health. They supplied a now-public document written by Eric Gillespie of Eric K. Gillespie Professional Corporation, Barristers & Solicitors: “The conclusion of Knopper and Ollson (2011) acknowledges the existence of ‘trade-offs’ between ‘mental and social well-being’ of some individuals exposed to wind turbines ‘against the larger demand for energy and its source.’”

In addition to supplying their own proof, each side, it would seem, is also providing their own interpretation of that proof in an effort to support their own agenda. Disregarding the proof and its various interpretations, the question remains: what will happen with the South Branch project?

At the end of 2011, the South Branch Wind Opposition Group met with the ‘affected’ township councils and asked for help. According to Albers, “so far Edwardsburgh/Cardinal has refused to do anything about the issue, even after providing two presentations that included sufficient documentation to indicate the significant risks to the local population, and Jim McDonell has not returned my email asking for a meeting about the issue, nor did he show up to our information session.”

Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont, Dundas, and South Glengarry, contacted The Leader on January 9th in response to the South Branch Wind Farm project.

McDonell attended the last Prowind public meeting in October, where he said, “I didn’t get any feedback at that time that anyone in the community was upset.” 

McDonell spoke out against the Liberal party’s Green Energy Act, pointing out that it has even been “condemned by the Auditor General as not being affordable.”

In addition, he reminded, that the Auditor General also found that for every job created by the Green Energy Act, three to four are lost. “It really doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “They’re blindly moving ahead with it.”

McDonell agreed that “the logic of generating green energy is great,” but “to have the government guarantee a 25 per cent return is absolutely crazy. The government of Ontario can’t afford it.”

As for Prowind’s final public meeting on January 10th, McDonell was unsure at press time whether he would be able to attend the event due to a previously-booked commitment.

Right now, McDonell said, he and his cohorts are still “trying to return the decisions to the local level” via a petition. They want the Premier to “listen to what the residents are saying.”

The SBWOG is still waiting on the decision of the South Dundas council as to whether they will lend their support.

Without support of some kind, it appears unlikely that SBWOG will be successful in their current endeavour.

Albers remarked that “the majority of the population live in cities where they simply don’t care about what happens in the rural areas. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Will Prowind Canada be able to ease the concerns of the South Branch Wind Opposition Group? Check back next week for a follow-up to the January 10th public meeting.

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