BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – The term annoyance gets tossed around a lot when debating wind turbines. No matter what definition though, those in attendance for a public meeting in Listowel were clearly annoyed.
Nearly 200 people attended the first public information centre hosted by Invenergy Canada at the Royal Canadian Legion on June 7, in anticipation of their Conestogo Wind Power Partnership project in North Perth and Perth East.
James Murphy, director of development for Invenergy Canada, explained the proposed 69 MW project would position 27 turbines in the area, though the exact layout for the turbines is yet to be determined. Murphy was also unable to confirm the size of turbines to be used, but that it could be up to 3 MW.
The public meeting was just part of the application in the Renewable Energy Approval process, Murphy said, which also includes a noise study, design and operations report, and decommissioning report.
“All of those have to be complete at the end of a process and submitted to the Ministry of the Environment,” Murphy said. “They take approximately six months to review those documents before they make a determination of whether the project is granted a permit or not.”
Murphy invited the public to take part in a bus tour of Invenergy Canada’s wind project in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, a 52-turbine project in operation since January last year.
“We’re in a unique position that we have an operational wind farm here in Ontario, and so we certainly would like to make that available for you to come and see,” Murphy said.
The panel for the written question and answer portion of the meeting also included Dr. Loren Knopper, and Richard Deacon, project manager. One of the first questions of the evening was directed to Knopper on his area of expertise. Knopper, a senior scientist at Intrinsik Environmental Sciences, is described as having led and conducted human health and ecological risk assessments across the country on the Intrinsik website, including 12 years of experience in the field of toxicology with an emphasis on ecological risk assessment.
When Knopper responded that his thesis was written on the effect of pesticides on small mammals, he was laughed at by the audience and dismissed as a salesman for Invenergy with no background on the debate.
Knopper disagreed, stating that his role was to digest the scientific literature on wind turbines.
“I’m here to tell you what the science has produced on both sides of the argument,” he said. “But no, I’ll tell you again I don’t have a degree in harmonics.”
Another question was whether wind turbines would be sited within one km of Elma Public School in Newry, where autistic children receive special education. Knopper said he was not aware of any scientific evidence or studies of people with autism living in proximity to turbines, which brought disagreement from members of the audience.
The conversation led to other health effects caused by wind turbines, which Knopper dismissed again.
“The scientific literature to date does not support the claim of adverse health effects that people have self-reported,” Knopper said, drawing cries from the audience.
One audience member even compared wind turbines to big tobacco companies that swore their product was safe initially, only to cause serious health problems later on. Knopper said that was a false comparison to make, admitting that turbines can cause problems when used improperly.
“The comparison of wind turbines and tobacco is ingenuous,” he said. “We know that noise at high levels can cause problems. That’s why there are setbacks to minimize that.”
At least two members of the audience were able to testify to health effects caused by turbines personally. Bill Mackenzie and Jean Schwandt are residents near Kincardine, in the shadow of a 110-turbine Enbridge wind project along the Lake Huron shoreline.
Mackenzie said he experienced problems sleeping and bouts of vertigo when living at the edge of the wind project, only to have the issues clear up within two weeks after moving. Schwandt said she and her husband had lived on their farm for 48 years, and only began to notice headaches and nausea six weeks after the production lines for the project were installed.
“In order to sleep at night, we turn our power off,” she said. “Our house is no longer a comfortable place to live.”
When asked how a handful of landowners in support of turbines can impact the rest of the community, Murphy said the guidelines and regulations are established by the province to make the project possible, no matter the size.
“If there’s one landowner or there’s a hundred landowners, it’s treated all the same,” he said. “There are enough landowners and properties to support our contract of 69 MW and our proposal for a low-density project of up to 27 turbines.”
Murphy added that the project will continue despite the opinion of the public, and that the Chatham-Kent project only received five complaints. A local farmer took issue with the comparison to Chatham-Kent, especially in regard to the farming community. Where Chatham-Kent is largely a cash crop area, dairy farms compose a large portion of the local farming industry, with 12,800 dairy cows producing up to three per cent of the milk in Ontario. With no setback required for livestock operations, the farmer was concerned with how turbines will affect milk production.
“Dairy is the heart and soul of this community, we don’t want to be the guinea pigs,” he said. “Why would you do the experiment on the most dense area for dairy in Ontario?”
Perhaps a question on many people’s minds that night, was how Murphy is able to sleep at night, knowing the project isn’t welcomed in the community. Murphy said since the beginning he has committed to the project to the highest standard possible, and that will continue.
“I feel good when I do go to sleep, after I’ve processed everything I’ve been through tonight, that we will continue to proceed and build the best project we can in this community,” Murphy said.
The next step for the project is for the draft Renewable Energy Approval documents to be made available for 60 days of public review before the second public meeting in the fall. Murphy said he anticipates the application to be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment in early 2013, with construction starting late 2013 or early 2014.