Was Prowind Canada able to ease the concerns of the South Branch Wind Opposition Group (SBWOG)? Simply put, the answer is no.
January 10th, 2012 marked Prowind Canada’s final public meeting at Matilda Hall in Dixon’s Corners with respect to the proposed South Branch Wind Farm near Brinston.
Although the meeting began with Prowind’s typical open-house style, the meeting’s main event came an hour into the night with a question and answer period lasting over two hours.
Upwards of 70 people showed up for the forum, looking for an opportunity to ask questions, express their fears, and share their uneasiness about the big change. There were also a few people in attendance to applaud the wind energy initiative and the Prowind group.
Several South Dundas council members and a few township employees also attended the event. When asked for his general impression of the meeting, Mayor Steven Byvelds said, “I do feel that the meeting went well.”
Members of SBWOG did not share the Mayor’s opinion. In a January 11th email, Bruce Albers, a representative for SBWOG, stated: “Suffice it to say that many of us found the answers given by Prowind to be slanted and in many cases simply untrue, to the extent that we will submit a formal complaint to the MOE (Ministry of the Environment.)”
On his own behalf, he said, “there are many issues I have with the answers that were provided by Prowind as well as the format.” Albers, and many other residents affected by the wind farm, felt that there should have been room for public rebuttal during the forum.
Another issue raised with the forum was the absence of any representatives from either the Ontario Health Unit (OHU) or MOE.
Prowind’s forum panel consisted of four people: project manager Juan Anderson; President Jeffrey Segal; Rochelle Rumney who is in charge of environmental assessments; and, Dr. Loren Knopper, co-author of Health effects and wind turbines: A review of the literature. It was pointed out that Dr. Knopper is an academic doctor, not a medical doctor.
According to Anderson, other agencies like OHU or MOE were not invited because “that’s really not their role.”
When asked about statistics in reference to wind turbines on health, Knopper said there were none. What is known, he said, is that reports put it around the “10 per cent mark for people who may find it annoying.”
The audience followed up by asking why Prowind hasn’t gone ahead and done some studies of their own. Segal replied, “we’re not in the business of doing health studies.”
When asked if Prowind has petitioned the government for a third-party epidemiological study, Anderson answered: “No, that’s really not our role. We go on the existing research.”
Knopper was then asked if he had written a paper suggesting that more studies need to be done on the effects of wind turbines on health. In short, his answer was “yes.”
In terms of recourse, should residents experience adverse health effects, the audience was told that MOE has a hotline available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. “It’s up to them (MOE) to investigate,” he said.
In any case, Knopper claimed, “there won’t be any adverse health effects based on the 550 metres and 40 decibels.”
The province requires that all turbines be a minimum of 550 metres away from residences. According to Knopper, with that distance, sound will not rise above 40 decibels.
It was suggested by both Anderson and Knopper that most health-related issues that arise in a wind farm area, do so indirectly and, most often, due to annoyance. Knopper pointed out that a person’s attitude and visual cues predict whether or not they might be annoyed.
It was also pointed out by a few panel members that most people who complain of health-related issues are those who are not profiting from it.
Knopper interjected, saying, “if you read negative things, hear negative things, then you’re going to be worried and annoyed.” He further pointed out that annoyance leads to stress and, stress can lead to health issues.
In addition to health-related worries, the residents in the audience were also concerned with property values.
According to Segal, “impirical evidence in both Ontario and elsewhere is demonstrating that there is no property value loss.” In terms of backing this up, Segal said he had documentation he could send to anyone interested.
An audience member introduced names of wind farm areas where substantial property value loss was experienced. Segal denied knowledge of any such findings, but agreed to look into it further.
He pointed out that there are many other factors, other than the presence of a wind farm, that could play a part in why an area’s property values decline.
Speaking of money issues, members of the audience wanted to know how much profit Prowind would make from the South Branch Wind Farm. They also wanted to know what the actual landowners (the “participating” residents who will have turbines on their land) would be receiving in terms of compensation.
In terms of Prowind’s gross revenue, Anderson said, “those are private financial details of the project. It’s not something we can really comment on.”
In response to how much the participating landowners were making from the deal, he said, “that is private between landowners and Prowind.”
When asked about the cost of energy on the average Ontario tax-payer due to the FIT program, Anderson replied, “there’s a lot of political spin that gets put on that.”
As for long-term jobs produced by the farm? Anderson revealed that due to a “higher amount of maintenance in the beginning, (there will be) 10 permanent jobs.” However; “ongoing, long-term there will be two to three.”
Nearing the end of the forum, the panel was asked the crucial question of whether any of them live within one kilometre of a wind farm. The answer for each of the panel members was ‘no’.
As stated earlier, one of the issues SBWOG had with the forum was the lack of any representation from governmental or environmental authorities. The Leader was able to contact the South Nation Conservation Authority (SNC) as well as the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).
On January 12th, Geoff Owens from the Planning and Engineering department of SNC spoke with The Leader. He revealed that under the Conservation Authority Act, “our rights are not superceded by the Green Energy Act.”
He said that Prowind’s project’s “natural hazards have to comply with our regulations before they get a permit from us.”
The SNC deals only with the environmental factors, however; everything else would fall under the jurisdiction of the MOE or the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
On January 13th, The Leader received an email from MOE. Kate Jordan from the Communications Branch of MOE reported that “the ministry has not received an application for a renewable energy approval for the Prowind Canada project.”
“It is our understanding,” she continued, “that the company is going through the needed public consultation work required under the renewable energy approval process.”
“Public involvement and participation is a significant part of the approval process. Developers are required to hold at least two public meetings and all comments received through public consultation must be documented and reported to the ministry as part of the application. We review all comments submitted carefully as part of our review of the application.”
Jordan also stated: “We also post complete applications on the environmental registry site for the public to review and comment on before we make any approval decisions.”
She went on to say that “our priority is that renewable energy is developed in a way that protects human health and the environment. The stringent Renewable Energy Approval process ensures that protection.”
“We have taken a cautious approach when setting standards for wind setbacks and noise limits to protect Ontarians. Ontario is a leader in establishing clear setbacks that are protective of human health and the environment.”
“Developers must demonstrate that projects will meet the ministry’s 40 decibel noise guideline – the sound in a library – to protect the surrounding community. The World Health Organization says this level is protective of human health.”
“The Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) and Ontario Superior Court have also ruled in favour of our protective renewable energy framework. The ERT upheld our approval and ruled that it is fully protective of human health and the surrounding community.”
While Prowind Canada moves slowly and steadily ahead with their project, the South Branch Wind Opposition Group is still working hard to have their demands addressed.
The SBWOG executive met on January 12th to discuss strategies and options moving forward. Next up is the South Dundas council meeting on January 17th.
South Dundas council intends to discuss the requests made by the South Branch Wind Opposition group made earlier, in December.
The January 17th South Dundas council meeting took place after The Leader’s Tuesday press deadline and news from the event will be covered in the January 25th edition. Check back then for more news on the subject.