Driving through Haldimand County south of Highway 3, the farmland is flat and the smokestacks of the Nanticoke generation station can been seen from miles away. But now, as one approaches the shores of Lake Erie, new structures dot the horizon — wind turbines.
The pretty farming hamlet of Fisherville is largely unchanged over the years, but just outside of the community it is a different picture, as dozens of wind turbines are either going up or are already erected.
It’s all part of the Ontario Government’s Green Energy Program aimed at replacing carbon-based fuels with renewables like solar and wind power.
But recently, Ontario’s push for wind power has been running into increased resistance from rural communities across the province.
In Chatham-Kent the issue has crossed political lines where former Liberal MP Rex Crawford recently joined forces with Conservative MP Bev Shipley to denounce the turbines. Crawford says a deal to sell his home recently fell through when the purchaser found out a wind turbine was going to be erected nearby.
Last month, Grey County Council called on Queen’s Park to place a moratorium on turbines. Closer to home wind turbines are creating tensions in normally bucolic Haldimand County.
“There are neighbours who are not speaking to other neighbours [over turbines],” says Betty Ortt from Wind Concerns Haldimand. She says she can think of numerous examples of friction in the community over the turbines, including people being harassed, couples getting divorced, and even lawsuits.
Haldimand resident Jerry Van Velden says property owners who accept turbines do so at the expense of their neighbours. He says that farmers with turbines on their property can potentially earn $1.5 million over the length of their contract, while neighbouring properties are seeing a loss in value on their homes.“The provincial government has taken away $150,000 of my own investment in my property,” he charged.
There is a raging debate over possible health impacts from the noise and vibration created by the turbines. Reported health effects range from headaches, sleeping problems, ringing in the ears, to vertigo. A Health Canada study due next year will probably not end the debate as skeptics are already questioning its methodology.
Haldimand resident Linda J Rogers, a Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner, says the Health Canada study is already showing a bias in favour of wind turbines. She believes the study is looking at a too-narrow range of health-related criteria. “There’s going to be some definite gaps and in my opinion some very clear biases.”
Wind industry supporters say any potential health effects are mitigated by a regulation that requires turbines to be a minimum of 550 meters from the nearest residence. But Rogers says the bigger the turbines, the further the potential health effects can travel.
Haldimand wind opponent Ernie King says some of the turbines are massive – reaching heights as much as 425 feet. Concrete footings required for the largest turbines are 30 feet deep.
As for the setback requirement, Ortt says some farmers who are leasing their property for turbine development are putting turbines closer to their neighbours’ homes than their own, while still technically abiding by the rules.
“The farmers do have a say where the wind turbines go and how many. At community hall monthly dinners, church dinners, restaurants and at church at which I help or attend, many people are talking about and are upset about the turbine situation and you notice the friction when farmers who have signed for turbines appear at these events,” says Ortt.
Setting aside the health and property value issues, energy critics say the bulk of the power currently being generated is being shipped to the United States at a huge loss. Wind tends to blow at night and in the spring and fall when electrical demand is low.
According to the Society of Professional Engineers, the only way the wind power can actually be used in Ontario is to let our water power spill without generating power; however a source in the power industry says wind power will be used more effectively in coming years as several of the provinces nuclear reactors are taken out of service for refurbishment.
As of January 2013, the province of Ontario has 1,077 wind turbines, which generate 2,012,510 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This accounts to about four per cent of Ontario’s total electricity.
Canadian Wind Energy Association says they still plan to expand the number of turbines in Canada substantially, adding they still believe that wind energy can satisfy 20 per cent of Canada’s energy needs by 2025. If Ontario continues to add wind power as is currently planned, the total cost will be $14 Billion.
With Files from Shawn McGuire- The Bay Observer