Amherst Island is a small community offshore from Kingston, Ontario, which if Toronto-based wind power developer Algonquin Power gets its way, will soon be populated by as many as 37 huge wind turbines.
The community has been ripped apart by the controversy, as is becoming typical for rural Ontario communities where farm owners want the revenue from leasing their land for the turbines, while other residents worry about health and property values.
Here is a feature article from this week’s Farmer’s Forum, by Patrick Meagher. http://www.farmersforum.com/DEC2012/p12.htm
The big chill
Eastern Ontario’s latest battle over wind turbines reveals another divided community
By Patrick Meagher
AMHERST ISLAND — Bruce Caughey is the only dairy farmer on the 20-kilometre long Amherst Island, a three-kilometre offshore ferry ride west of Kingston. In 1970, there were 28.
Times have changed. Looks like they’re changing again.
If Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. has its way, there will be 33 to 37 new wind turbines, each standing 50 storeys tall, on the humble island. Contracts have been signed, so Caughey expects to see eight of them from his back window.
“This is not a popular project,” he said, noting that the year-round population of about 410 people (2011 census) are overwhelmingly against it. Some say the issue has defined people by who now waves to whom.
“You can have differences of opinion,” Caughey said. “Most people rise above that. There are lots of social things we still enjoy together. Most people get along.”
Amherst Island is the typical story of many small Ontario communities where ugly battles have erupted over a landowner’s right to do what he wants on his property versus the neighbour’s right to the enjoyment of his property.
Despite worry about killing birds, the biggest issues are health concerns caused by the turbines and having to look at them. You can see the turbines towering over neighbouring Wolfe Island from the grassy southeast. To some they look good. To others they don’t. To some who lease land for a turbine, they look like money, up to $15,000 per year. Others cynically said the island will become a factory. The ones on Amherst will be taller by 20 to 30 metres, reaching 150 metres from ground to the tip of a vertical blade.
Caughey visited a farmer with three turbines on Wolfe Island and was struck by the “haunting” afternoon shadow but also the noise. The farmer told him they can sometimes sound like a jet plane taking off. A neighbour and a visiting veterinarian said they have heard it too.
“The only people getting a return are the landowners but we’re all going to enjoy them or not,” said Caughey, who once considered signing up for a turbine.
The setback is 550 metres but Caughey agreed with others that setbacks from homes should be at least one kilometre.
Local councilor for Loyalist Township, Duncan Ashley, lives on the island and said that in 18 years in municipal politics this issue is by far the most divisive. “Without a doubt,” he said. “Nothing comes close. This is tearing the community apart.”
Farmers Forum conducted a survey of 200 of Wolfe Island’s residents last year and the most significant conclusion was that 28.5 per cent of respondents said that community spirit had gotten worse since 86 turbines were erected in 2009.
Even though Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a priority points system that sends projects that are not community-supported to the bottom of the list, Ashley said he has not seen any legislation that gives municipalities power to stop a project. “Municipality rights have been stripped,” he said.
Some road work has been done to bring in the wind turbines and the province is considering a multi-million dollar upgrade of the ferry but the wind project has yet to be approved.
The president of the Association for the Protection of Amherst Island, Peter Large, said that 15 to 18 landowners have signed a deal to get a wind turbine but 200 people have signed on with the association in protest, representing the “vast majority” of the year-round adult population.
Large makes numerous arguments but there are two that stand out: health concerns and lack of local autonomy.
There’s no way that a building this tall would be approved in a city with such overwhelming opposition from the community, he said, adding that there is no local input, no hearing and no appeal process. “This in itself is unthinkable.”
The many health concerns from existing wind projects are now being studied by Health Canada, which expects to reach conclusions in about two years.
One concern, which has rarely been discussed in the news media, is the shadow flicker or strobe light effect created by the setting sun passing behind the turning blades and casting long but interrupted shadows into homes. (Google “wind turbine shadow flicker” and see the shadow action for yourself.)
Loyalist Township planner Murray Beckel said that if the project is approved he suspects turbine construction will not start until 2014, as the company first needs to hold a second open house in the new year and then provide numerous reports to the Ministry of Environment and obtain various permits. The ministry will need about six months to respond to the report package, he said.
But while the opposition has the numbers this is far from a one-sided battle. The pro-wind group has the law on its side. It also has long-time residents, mostly farming families, said sheep farmer Dave Willard, who stands to gain from two wind turbines on his property. “Every traditional island family that has been here for three, four, five generations are all on side but one (dairy farmer Bruce Caughy),” he said. “I can’t think of one other long-term island family that is opposed. Almost everyone with 100 acres signed on.”
He added that some families signed on but didn’t get a turbine and will still earn $2,500 a year for the 20-year term of the project.
“I don’t like being dictated to by a group of newcomers (fewer than 30 years),” Willard protested. “They don’t have historical authority. They didn’t raise their kids here.”
Editor’s note: APAI is a sister organization to Ottawa Wind Concerns, as group members of Wind Concerns Ontario. http://www.windconcernsontario.ca