Residents question developer’s spin on wind turbines

The Orono Town Hall was filled to capacity (120 people) last month for a public meeting held by Zero Emissions People Inc. (ZEP) regarding its proposed development of a 20-MegaWatt, 10-turbine industrial wind farm in the Orono-Kirby area. The exact location of the wind farm was not disclosed at the meeting.

Approximately 70 more local residents were lined up outside the hall after the venue reached its capacity by the 7 p.m. start time, with one police officer at the door, another on stage with the organizers, and a pair patrolling on foot outside on Main Street.

The meeting fulfills one of the requirements of the Ontario government as part of the Renewable Energy Approval process for companies, like Wind Works Power Corp. (WWPC), awarded a contract through the Feed-In Tariff program. Founded in 2008, ZEP was acquired by WWPC in January 2010. The ZEP Ganaraska Wind Farm was one of seven power purchase agreements offered to WWPC by the Ontario Power Authority on April 8, 2010.

ZEP’s July 28th meeting followed a meeting held at the Orono Arena the previous week by Clarington Wind Concerns, a group working “to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the people of Clarington from industrial wind turbines”.

Heather Rutherford, spokesperson for CWC, said her group was disappointed by the choice of the Town Hall for the ZEP meeting. “We suggested it did not fulfill the requirements of a public meeting if [due to its limited capacity] not everyone could attend,” she told the Times.

She also noted that the hall was not wheelchair accessible, and said she urged ZEP representatives to re-schedule the meeting at the Orono Arena, which holds many more people and is wheelchair accessible.

“They countered that they would have to hold a second meeting in November,” said Rutherford. “They don’t seem interested at this point in holding a larger meeting in a larger venue.”

Rutherford did manage to convince organizers to forego their plans to hold an “open house”-style meeting in favour of a question-and-answer session. “We were advised ahead of time that there would be no presentation. We suggested it might be most efficient if questions could be answered one at a time. They reluctantly agreed to do that,” she stated.

Rutherford found herself in the impromptu role of facilitator, joining Wind Works Power CEO Ingo Stuckmann and ZEP consultant Martin Ince on stage to field questions from the crowd.

Rutherford, armed with a folder full of information, challenged Stuckmann on a number of facts regarding the effects of wind turbines on health, and cited expert opinions from around the world to back up her claims. Stuckmann referred to Ontario regulations from the Green Energy Act.

Why, she asked him, was ZEP ignoring the 1.2 km minimum setback requirements for wind turbines recommended by the World Health Organization?

“We basically have to go by the rules implemented [by the Ontario government],” replied Stuckmann, “of a 550-metre minimum setback, and a 40-decibal maximum sound limit.”

“I was in Shelburne [a large wind farm in southern Ontario] on the weekend. If you are 550-metres away, you can hardly hear it, “he told the audience, part of which erupted in expressions of disbelief.

Local resident Martha Rutherford-Conrad expressed concern that her property values would suffer, “because I’m a neighbour to your project.”

“Maybe you want to get a turbine too?” replied Stuckmann with a sheepish grin, but this response only angered some in the crowd.

“You move in, the farmer [who leases land to you] makes money, you make money, but we lose $100,000 in property values,” Newcastle resident Mike McGrath told Stuckmann. “All the money I’ve earned is invested in my house. You benefit from my loss.”

“I do greatly appreciate that because it’s the number one concern,” replied Stuckmann. “What do we do to address it? We’re just in the process of mitigating it, especially for people within a kilometre because those are the people affected. We are thinking of ways to address that.”

McGrath pointed out that the health concerns of his family were his first priority. Stuckmann agreed that health concerns and property values were key problems. He asserted that these issues only affected people who live “close, 600 to 700 metres” from a wind turbine. “It’s probably not an issue two kilometres away,” he said. “It is!” came a unified cry of opposition from the crowd. Heather Rutherford backed up the crowd’s position, stating, “Studies confirm people within two kilometres reporting health effects.”

One farmer asked about setbacks for buildings for livestock. “There is no setback for agricultural buildings where people are making a living from the animals. Will you adjust your setbacks for people’s situations?” he asked.

“Yes, we will look at it,” said Stuckmann. “You have to tell us of your situations. People living close will have different conditions.”

But when Stuckmann offered to deal separately with one man who voiced concerns, the man shouted back that he would not be bought off at the expense of his neighbours.

Saying he had addressed enough questions about setbacks, health and property values, Stuckmann moved on to questions of liability, and who would be responsible in the event of problems or catastrophes. “Basically, the operator of the wind farm, the wind farm owner, not the person who leased the property,” he said.

Next, he was asked, “What if the company fails?” He replied that that was unlikely. “A typical project, a 10-MegaWatt project of 4 to 5 turbines, has $20-million from the banks and another $20-million from investors,” he stated.

He then made a pitch for local investment, citing the project’s positive environmental impact. “One turbine makes up for 200 people’s carbon footprints, so five turbines offset a thousand people’s carbon footprints. This project is going to need about $10-million of equity from local investors, a thousand people at $10,000 per person.”

When asked if the project’s viability depended on the participation of local investors, Stuckmann replied, “We need about $10-million in equity for the project to move forward. That’s what we’re looking into right now. The way it’s set up, getting a percentage of the project from the community is preferred. We like this concept, but we aren’t dependent on the community for funds.”

As 8 p.m. approached, the consultant Martin Ince noted it was time to end the meeting. “We are requesting that you leave,” he said to the crowd, many of whom were expressing their dissatisfaction with the fact that the meeting was ending already.

“For the sake of the people outside, we request another meeting,” said Heather Rutherford. But her request was not acknowledged. “We apologize for the inconvenience today, and thank-you for coming,” said Stuckmann.

Stu Williams, a real estate agent from Pontypool, told the Times after the meeting that studies he has seen show property values drop 42% after wind farms are built within view. “We can talk about health effects, and wind noise, but it comes down to property values, which are people’s retirement investments,” he said. “Last year in Pontypool, a ZEP representative told us property values go up after turbines are built nearby. She was laughed off the stage. If you were looking at two $400,000 properties essentially the same except one has five wind turbines in view, which one would you buy?”

His wife, Marsha Williams, agreed, “If it’s your health, you can move. But if your property value drops, you can’t move.”

“We’re very concerned,” said Stu Williams, noting the couple did not come to disturb the meeting. “We’re from Pontypool. We’re part of the same community. We ski at the ski club here. We have friends in Orono. We shop in Orono.”

Besides the ZEP Ganaraska Wind Farm, WWPC also has been awarded contracts for projects in Bethany, Millbrook, Norwood and Pontypool. “The Pontypool hall is also tiny,” noted Heather Rutherford about the public meeting scheduled two days later at the Pontypool Community Centre. “You have to wonder if these small venues are being chosen strategically.”

A few days later, it was reported by the Peterborough Examiner that the public open house in Pontypool for the proposed Settlers Landing Wind Park (Pontypool) and the Snowy Ridge Wind Park (Bethany) was shut down by the fire marshal when more than 140 people tried to crowd into the tiny building. The meeting has yet to be rescheduled.

WWPC used to be called AmMex Gold Mining, a company which appears to have claimed bankruptcy within the last five years. Documents listed online (www.faqs.org/sec-filings/100517/Wind-Works-Power-Corp_10-Q/) with the U.S. Securities And Exchange Commission confirm that AmMex Gold Mining Corp. changed its name to Wind Power Works Corp. on March 25, 2009.

Form 10-Q dated May 17, 2010 further states that the company does not intend to become a wind energy producer, but rather develop the wind park for sale to wind energy producers. “Once we secure power contracts, we believe that we will be able to lease or sell the Wind Farms to operating utility companies or companies desiring to purchase wind turbines and erect the necessary power lines.”

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