Wind farm opposition roars: Radio-Canada special report
December 6, 2017
In 2014, the small community of Dutton-Dunwich, near London, rejected 84% of the proposed installation of 20 wind turbines on the territory of the municipality by a US multinational.
A plebiscite that does not prevent the provincial government from giving initial approval to Invenergy’s plan in 2017.
In Dutton-Dunwich, it’s incomprehension and anger.
“Everyone is furious. All my neighbors are really worried. I do not think we can compromise. I do not want these structures 200 m high next to me, “says Kristen Scheele, a resident who feels betrayed by the fact that the voice of the population is not respected.
“When, in the democratic process, the rights of a minority outweigh the rights of the majority? ” – Kirsten Scheele
A feeling shared by the mayor of the city, who has been fighting the idea since the beginning.
“We do not want it. My fellow citizens are frustrated that they are not being listened to and are concerned that their concerns are not being addressed, “said Cameron McWilliam.
At a public information meeting organized by Invenergy in October 2017, members of the Dutton / Dunwich Opponents of Wind Turbines Group (DDOTW) say that wind turbines are bad for the environment, for the economy and for themselves.
What they absolutely want to avoid is that their fate is identical to that of the neighboring municipality of Lakeshore, where a park of 100 wind turbines was built in 2016 against the advice of the population and the municipal council.
“Council passed a motion saying we had our share of wind turbines and we did not want more,” said Mayor Tom Baine. The government’s response has been: they are coming! ” – Tom Baine, Lakeshore Mayor
Why ignore the opinion of citizens and elected officials?
According to provincial legislation, the support of a community where wind turbines are built is desirable, but it is not essential.
“While community support can increase the chances of a project receiving a contract, there are many factors that affect its bid … Even though municipal and community support is an important factor in the evaluation. project proposals, it is not mandatory, “says the ministry by email.
A situation that many elected officials deplore, including Jeff Yurek, Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
“With the Green Energy Act, the government has removed the autonomy of the municipalities, so that it can decide where it [puts] these renewable energy projects. It does not matter if a city or village is a voluntary host or not. ” – Jeff Yurek, Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London
While more than 2,500 wind turbines have been built in Ontario since 1995, the number of housing starts has accelerated since 2009, when the Green Energy Act came into force.
But why do whole communities refuse ecological and sustainable energy?
In spite of the positive label attached to this so-called green energy, it is criticized for several inconveniences.
“People who live near these huge machines have problems. They are noisy, blink and vibrate with a vibration you can feel from your home, “says Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario, a citizen organization that provides information on the potential impact of wind power generation on the environment, economy, human health and the natural environment.
“A majority of our residents are against, they do not see their interest. They make noise and pose health risks, “said Lakeshore Mayor Tom Baine.
The situation of contaminated artesian wells in the Chatham-Kent area is also bothering citizens.
“When that happens, you can not go back, you can not fix it,” says Wilson.
For Kristen Scheele of Dutton, well water in Chatham and thousands of noise complaints are all sources of concern and questioning.
It worries me a lot about whether they really protect the public interest – Kristen Scheele, a resident of Dutton-Dunwich.
According to reports obtained under the Access to Information Act, thousands of complaints about wind turbines have been filed with the Ministry of the Environment, which, for the time being, has made no followed.
“The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has clearly not fulfilled its mandate in dealing with complaints in this area,” said Dutton-Dunwich Mayor Cameron McWilliam.
PROBLEMS TAKEN SERIOUSLY?
In the wind sector, it is said that the concerns of residents are taken into consideration while complying with the requirements of the legislation, which was developed from scientific studies. A regulatory distance of 550 m is required for the installation of wind turbines near homes. Wind turbines must also comply with stringent sound standards.
“If, at a point in time, wind turbines exceed the noise threshold, the department has put in place a compliance mechanism to ensure that the impacts are mitigated,” says Brandy Giannetta, Regional Director of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
For its part, the Ministry of the Environment claims to take all complaints seriously. “Our priority is to protect public health and the environment by promoting and ensuring compliance with departmental rules and requirements,” reads an email.
The ministry ensures that systematic monitoring is done to ensure that wind farms comply with all provincial requirements.
“When a complaint is registered, the ministry responds by following up with the facility to make sure it complies with all provincial requirements,” says the email.
The ministry indicates that since 2006, 25 citizens are responsible for 60% of the complaints filed in this area with the Ministry. In this context, the department says it has conducted nearly 300 follow-up activities and continues to conduct proactive inspections of wind farm operations.
On the ground, energy companies do everything to reassure residents at public meetings such as those organized by Invenergy in Dutton-Dunwich.
“We understand that citizens have concerns or objections. But in the end, wind turbines are allowed in Ontario, period, “says James Murphy, vice president of business development of the company.
ARE THE STUDIES CONVINCING?
The energy companies are more confident in their efforts that several studies indicate that the noise and vibration of the turbines do not affect the health of residents and that their construction has no impact on the nearby artesian wells.
In 2014, a Health Canada study concludes that there is no evidence to establish a link between the noise exposure of wind turbines and the health problems reported by certain people living near these facilities.
“No statistically significant relationship was found between measured blood pressure, or resting heart rate, and noise exposure of wind turbines. ” – Health Canada study with 4000 hours of measurement of wind turbine noise data.
But the agency also has several reservations. According to her, scientific data on the subject are limited. It also states that the findings of this study do not in themselves provide definitive answers and that they “should be considered in the context of a larger evidence base”.
The public also does not trust the mandatory environmental studies submitted by the energy companies for any new project.
“People who have money can buy the reports they need. ” – Jane Wilson, Wind Concerns Ontario
Cameron McWilliam also questions the independence of this research.
“When you have the fox guarding the hen house, you expect that the studies will not be done by the opponent. It should be totally independent of the company and it did not happen. Because of wind farm liabilities, residents and our board are not ready to believe studies that say everything is fine, “he says.
But beyond research, living on a daily basis alongside wind turbines is difficult, say the inhabitants. Whether the vibrations felt by some or the discomfort caused by flashing air signal lights experienced by others, the effects of the presence of wind turbines are very real in the lives of these people.
It is in this context that the opposition is organized among citizens who see especially in this renewable energy the symbol of questioning their way of life in the countryside.
They are not ready to be imposed these huge machines. They do not want to be hijacked and most of all want to hear from a government that invests in green energy and from companies that claim to comply with government requirements.