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In Depth

Society
| 12/11/14

Community support fuels wind turbine success

TCE

Two recent studies have suggested the potential ill effects of wind turbines are mostly hot air. They have found little evidence that turbines decrease property values or cause ill health effects – but that’s not satisfying the vigorous grassroots campaign against turbines that is ongoing in Ontario. Several weeks ago, Health Canada released the long-awaited results of its inquiry into health effects on thousands of residents who lived near the turbines. While the turbines do make noise and have a visual impact on the landscape, widespread ill health effects such as sleep disturbance, headaches, tinnitus, heart disease and quality of life were determined to have no association with wind turbine noise. However, the study did find a significant link between turbine noise and annoyance – suggesting that the presence of turbines, while not dangerous, may not always be pleasant. At the same time, a study of property values near Guelph in southern Ontario suggested that while the sales value of specific individual properties in the region may have been affected by turbines, there was no general negative impact on prices in areas where turbines are located.

Wind energy has seen significant growth in Canada in recent years, and is helping reduce reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. However, its vocal critics show that, whatever the reasons, wind doesn’t fill everyone’s sails. The opposition may be rooted in how policies designed to encourage adoption of windpower were introduced. Some of the most vehement opposition is in Ontario, where the 2009 Green Energy Act was passed after only minimal consultation with communities. Wind-power developers were allowed to build turbines as close as 550 metres from homes. In contrast, the government of Nova Scotia took a different approach when it established the COMFIT feed-in-tariff program: communities were asked to submit proposals for projects that local residents found acceptable. The COMFIT program would then provide communities with a share of the income from electricity sales. That approach has been judged a success, while Ontario’s top down approach raised hackles, and that might explain why passion for wind power in that province has died down. BC’s experience offers another example of a successful approach: the Bear Mountain wind farm near Dawson Creek–– which was initiated by local residents who wanted to research the area’s wind potential––has become a tourist draw and a point of pride for the town. Ontario might learn from these examples. If that province can adopt a more community-based approach to wind energy, then perhaps the breeze will freshen once again

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