New academic wind farm toolkit disappoints

The need for mandatory community support and proper mitigation of harmful effects from wind turbines is acknowledged, but there is still no definition of who is “local” or a community, Wind Concerns Ontario says.

February 13, 2017

Map of municipalities formally demanding change to the IESO wind power bid process, to July 14, 2016 — a lot of unhappy communities

A Western University PhD candidate and a professor at the university have produced a “toolkit” on wind power development in Nova Scotia and Ontario, which purports to summarize social responses to wind power projects, and offer a set of recommendations.

The document is based on a survey of residents living near several selected wind power projects. It was prepared in association with Communities Around Renewable Energy Projects or COAREP, a “project”  designed to “produce original research and outputs to contribute to constructive and sustainable dialogue within and between rural communities and other wind turbine stakeholders.” COAREP is funded by the Metcalf Foundation.

The authors Chad Walker and Jamie Baxter explain the “toolkit” initiative: “The toolkit also explores some novel forms of planning mechanisms and benefit packages based on the preferences of those residents. We find high levels of support for systems that would allow for independent experts during planning stages, investment opportunities for local residents, and discounts on electricity for those living close to turbines. The paper closes with a list of nine principles which are intended to summarize the key points of the document.”

The “Toolkit” may be downloaded here.

Significant differences were noted between the people surveyed in Nova Scotia and Ontario, the authors noted.

Wind Concerns Ontario had the opportunity to view the toolkit in draft form several weeks ago; we were very concerned about the complete lack of any discussion of adverse health impacts, property value loss, and the fact that the wind power program in Ontario was launched without any cost-benefit or impact analysis (a fact pointed out by two Auditors General) — the situation in Ontario today is that the province has a surplus of power, the cost of signing expensive contracts for renewables like wind power has been a significant factor in driving electricity bills up, yet communities are being forced to “host” the power projects with little or no benefit locally, or to the province.

Wind Concerns Ontario also noted that there was very little real community consultation performed as part of the toolkit development process.

The authors acknowledged Wind Concerns Ontario’s contribution: “Wind Concerns Ontario submitted a 23-page report in response to the toolkit, outlining a range of issues not covered in much detail in the toolkit, but highly relevant to the issue of wind turbine facility siting. We have edited the toolkit considerably as a result …”

“While the creation of a ‘Toolkit’ is a worthwhile objective, it needs to be aligned with the realities being experienced by the host communities if it is to be useful as a framework for assessing interactions with these communities,” Wind Concerns Ontario said in its comment paper to Walker and Baxter.

“It is a concern to us that the work done in developing this ‘Toolkit’ seems to have included very limited communication with Ontario communities. To understand the full impact of wind turbines on a community, the contents of the current draft suggest that the authors need to have more direct contact with the people who are being affected by wind turbines. These are the people that are coming to WCO for information and assistance and forming local support groups to deal with the problems being created.”

While the Toolkit authors maintain that better communication (and money) is all that stands between communities and acceptance of wind power projects, WCO said that for the communities forced to lived with the power plants, the false mythology of wind power has been disproved.

“Over the past six years, the government claimed a number of benefits from the green energy program, including the following:

  • The investment in wind turbines allowed coal plants to be closed. Fact: the Asthma Society this year presented a certificate to Bruce Nuclear in Kincardine recognizing the role of the refurbished nuclear facilities in allowing this change to be implemented.
  • The investment in renewable energy technology creates jobs. Fact: Most jobs created are lower-skill, short-term construction jobs. In the 2011 report, Ontario’s Auditor General warned that studies in other jurisdictions which showed two to four jobs were lost due to increased electricity costs for every job created.
  • Surplus electricity is being sold to other jurisdictions at a profit. Fact: the IESO’s reporting shows that the revenue recovered is below the rates provided for in the wind turbine contracts. Neighbouring jurisdictions are now promoting their lower electricity rates to lure Ontario businesses to relocate.”

WCO pointed out flaws in the research behind the Toolkit development, in particular the fact that the power projects studied were small compared to many developments in Ontario. The use of the Gunn’s Hill wind power project was particularly questionable, WCO said, because while nominally a “community” group invested in the power project, in fact few locals were in the investment group—at the same time, residents fought the project from the beginning, even launching an appeal before the Environmental Review Tribunal.

“It is odd to suggest that this outside group hiding behind the façade of a community organization, will change local population’s perception of the project,” WCO wrote. The situation is confirmed by the survey results which indicate that the project, even in its new format, does not have community support.  Concerns about impact of the noise emissions on the nearby resident population take precedence over sham organizational structures.

This situation raises the question of how the authors have defined ‘community involvement’ in its analysis of the benefits. To be considered as having an impact on project acceptance, it would seem appropriate to include only groups that are located within a limited distance of the wind turbine project.  There also should be some measure of how the group reflects all the residents in an area.  In many wind turbine projects, a small group of landowners agree to participate and impose a project on a community despite the wishes of the wider community.  Creating a ‘community’ structure around these landowners does not change the basic relationship.”

Perhaps as a result of the WCO comment submission, the authors added an eighth principle to the document, related to adverse health effects and other issues with industrial-scale wind turbines:

Principle 8: Financial benefits are not a replacement for proper mitigation

Though residents living near turbines are dissatisfied with the amount of benefits and particularly how they are distributed among the people living closest to turbines, this does not mean that paying residents will quell concerns. Addressing the mitigation of negative impacts from turbines e.g., noise, vibration – and clearly establishing the need for new facilities – should still be viewed as priorities.

Principle 6 also acknowledges support for mandatory community support as part of the wind turbine siting process (i.e., as WCO says, contracts should not be awarded without community support as a mandatory requirement) and further, that any discussion in a community about he possibility of a wind power facility should occur BEFORE lease negotiations. In Ontario, the practice is to sign up leaseholders and by the time the community is aware of a potential power development, all the documents have been signed.

We remain disappointed that many in the academic world seem to be unmoved from the ideology of wind power development, while the real world community experience provides a different view.

Read the Wind Concerns Ontario critique of the draft Toolkit here: UWOToolkit-commentFINAL


The bluster about Ontario’s ‘community’ wind farm

February 6, 2017

Last week, the wind power communications machinery was touting the virtues of the Gunn’s Hill wind power project which they claim is Ontario’s first real “community” wind power project, half-owned by the local community.

The project’s success was owed to its partners, the Oxford Community Energy Cooperative, a (non-local) First Nation, and Bullfrog Power as well as the Germany-based power developer, Prowind.

The story was repeated on CBC’s Ontario Morning.

Community-based? Not so fast.

Retired engineer William Palmer wrote to correct the CBC on their assumptions, with this letter.

I listened with interest this morning as Wei Chen spoke with Miranda Fuller, Communications Director of the Gunn’s Hill Wind Project about this “community project” of the Oxford Community Energy Cooperative.

We learned:
– it is a project with 49% community ownership
– 33% of the members of the cooperative live in Oxford County

We heard also learned of the other owners, ProWind Canada, and Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation.

Let’s look a little deeper at this community involvement.

The Cooperative Web Site says, “The present membership consists of 160 individuals and organizations that live in the project vicinity, Oxford County and all of Southern Ontario,” to whom $9 million in shares and debentures were sold.  Yet, to be a member of the cooperative the minimum share is $100, so not every member needs to be a major investor. It is interesting to read who some of the other members of the cooperative are – including the project developers. Elsewhere the website says there are 186 members.

So that means there are about 33% of 186 = 62 members of the cooperative that live in Oxford County … which Wikipedia tells us had some 105,719 residents in 2011, so we can see that 0.06% of the county population are supporters. It’s not exactly a wide support base in the county.

You might be interested in knowing that at the Environmental Review Tribunal the Township of Norwich Councillor for the impacted ward, Mr. Wayne Buchanan spoke of the Township of Norwich’s past and ongoing objections to the Project. He presented three letters to the Tribunal, one from the Township to Premier McGuinty asking for a moratorium on wind turbine developments, one to the Approval Holder (developer) asking for a delay in the development until noise and health studies are available, and one to Premier Wynne noting that the Township of Norwich was an unwilling host of industrial wind turbines.

You might also be interested in knowing that the office of the participating Six Nations of the Grand River Development Agency is located over 50 km from the wind turbines. It is a financial investment, but not exactly in their neighbourhood.  (A similar case occurred in the community of Dutton Dunwich, where the participation of First Nations groups included First Nations located near the Manitoba Border or James Bay, but not the local First Nation.) “Points” are received by the Ontario Renewable Energy Approvals process for “community involvement, or for First Nations involvement, even if they are not from the impacted community.

Now, why would folks invest in such a development?  Well, the 10 turbines of Gunn’s Hill will be paid some (10 x $135 a MWh x 1.8 MW x 8760 hours a year x 24% capacity factor) = $5,108,832 a year for the estimated 37,843 MWh they will produce – whether the electricity they produce is needed or not (as wind developers can be paid to curtail operation or not produce when the electricity is not needed).  Interestingly, had the power been produced instead by Bruce Power, the payment would have been less than half as much.  That $5 million a year for a 20 year contract, is pretty good return for a project with a total investment of perhaps $40 million. Few other (government supported) investments will return some 12.5% a year on a guaranteed basis for 20 years. Sadly, the power consumers of Ontario, including those who cannot afford to pay their electricity bills, are the payees of that investment return.

Wei Chen started to ask a question that deserved an answer … about how people will think when their electricity bills arrive. Ontario simply cannot keep paying twice as much for a product that is delivered best at times when it is not needed … and then pay Michigan or New York State to take the excess off our hands (or at the very least give them the electricity for free to power their industries) without adversely impacting power rates in Ontario. It is no wonder that Ontario rates are climbing so rapidly.

I thought that Wei Chen or other Ontario Morning staff might be interested in scanning  what concerns I would have presented to the Environmental Review Tribunal where I was accepted as an expert witness, had they chosen to accept all my testimony. (They did not, and what was presented was only a fraction of what was initially prepared for them). A copy of my presentation as initially offered to the Environmental Review Tribunal is attached, and signed as a Professional Engineer.  I note that many others in the community also made presentations – again with only partial acceptance by the Environmental Review Tribunal.

I have blind copied a few of the local participants and interested bodies who may not have heard your interview this morning and who may wish to contact you to confirm if what you were told was accurate that “once the turbines are in operation the project is accepted” or as Miranda Fuller noted, people see the turbines as “majestic.”

One of the Gunn’s Hill wind turbines. Photo taken from a non-participating, non-consenting and not happy neighbour’s home.