Wind turbine woes
September 2014, Farmers Forum
Farmers Forum surveyed a big chunk of Wolfe Island residents and found that 75 per cent approve of or are indifferent toward the 86 wind turbines they’ve been living with for five years.
There are only two wind turbine projects in Eastern Ontario–one in Wolfe Island and one near Brinston, south of Ottawa. But Wolfe Island, surrounded by the St. Lawrence River at one end and Lake Ontario at the other, is a captive crowd. We easily surveyed 200 of the 1,400 residents lining up for the Kingston ferry or working in the hamlet of Marysville.
With such a high proportion of residents surveyed–one in seven–we captured a fairly good picture of how people feel about those gigantic white gosal posts with their three imposing blades. Of course, having a visual of a turbine makes a huge difference. On many properties on the 29-kilometer long island, you can’t even see the turbines.* From other vantage points, you can see more than 10.
We found that money makes a difference. Those landowners (many of them farmers) hosting one or more turbines, are delighted with the $10,000 to $14,000 they earn each year per turbine just to look at them. The wind turbine company hands over another $100,000 to the island annually. Improvements to the local outdoor rink are one of the many benefits. It’s like getting paid twice for having the good luck of living at the right place on the right island at the right time.
Not surprisingly, wind power companies in other areas of the province are now offering “hush” money to Ontarians living near a proposed wind turbine project. As I’ve said before, if a company wants to pay me $14,000 a year to put a wind turbine on my property, I’d move the garage in order to accommodate them. Change their mind and offer the turbine to my neighbour and suddenly that turbine doesn’t look so good. It’s kind of an eyesore and doesn’t it affect bird migration? Could this be the health issues that we hear about or am I just sick at the thought that I just lost $280,000 of free money over 20 years? I think I know the answer. But when you offer to cut me in on the monetary benefits of my neighbour’s turbine, I’m suddenly all sunshine and happy thoughts.
This is not to say there aren’t honest-to-goodness health risks. Farmers Forum has no reason to disbelieve those survey respondents who complain of low-level noise when the wind changes direction.
We’re losing $24,000 an hour on wind
This brings me to my only real beef against wind power. As happy as I thought I would be to have a turbine, I don’t want one.
They are the biggest money losers in the history of the province. Not for Wolfe Islanders or anyone else who gets a wind turbine contract. But for everyone else forced to pay an electricity bill. Electricity costs have already risen 12.5 per cent each year for the past five years. There are more than 1,000 operating wind turbines and another more than 4,000 to go up in the province. Ontario’s auditor general says we can expect another 40 per cent price hike over the next few years in our electricity bills. By 2018, every Ontario family will be paying an extra $636 per year to go green. And why? So the province can claim to be the first green province or state in North America? Big deal.
Wind turbines are incredibly inefficient. In a major report last year, the Fraser Institute noted that 80 per cent of the power generated by wind turbines occur when Ontario doesn’t need the power. So, while the province pays 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour, it often resells is for 2.5 cents south of the border. The report, Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, observed that data from the Independent Electricity System Operator show Ontario loses, on average, $24,000 per operating hour on wind power sales. Numerous companies, including Kelloggs and Heinz, have closed plants because Ontario companies pay more for power than any other jurisdiction in North America.
To make matters worse, a wind turbine can contain more than 200 tonnes of steel and Chinese factories need the mining of even more tonnes of coal and iron to make them. Writes David Hughes in his book Carbon Shift, “A windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”
So, you can’t even call wind turbines green energy. It’s appalling that farmers have been lied to about the benefits. We’re wasting billions on a phoney cause.
Patrick Meagher is editor of Farmers Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
WCO editor’s note: Although Farmers Forum was clear on the limitations of their survey they missed several key points: one, by surveying only people at the ferry dock and in a coffee shop, they may have missed people who stay on the island all day, but more important, as the Island has turbines on one half and none on the other, it would have been absolutely critical to define where the survey respondents actually live. They didn’t. Another key factor in any survey of community residents living with turbines is the fact that many turbine contracts force landowners to sign a non-disclosure agreement—in other words, if they have anything negative to say about the turbines, they can’t talk.