Today, my hostess had tasks in town. When she’s been here, she’s driven me around the area, past each and every turbine, and has hosted neighbours who’ve also shared their experiences and views. I’ve welcomed her generosity, and all the information; today, I’ve had the chance for a little mid-week reflection and assessment.
By myself, when it’s quiet, I can hear the turbines. I hear a regular, rather high-pitched, very quiet clanking. I checked its rhythm with the pace of the rotating blades I can see; they match. And the rhythm I hear is not the same as the rhythm of the kitchen fan I see rotating above the fireplace.
Yesterday, many of the turbines were still, as there was little or no wind. Today, I woke to rain; then the sun came out. Next, it clouded over, then hard rain and wind developed, lasted briefly – I can’t hear the turbines through that. The turbines are still spinning slowly; I understand there’s a fixed maximum, no matter how strong the winds.
Conversation, TV, kitchen activity, all drown out the turbine rhythm for me. I can’t hear the turbines when the fridge motor is running, or when it’s sunny and windy outdoors and I’m inside. The only noise here I ever find annoying is the electronic peeping that indicates someone’s in the garage. My personal sound perception, I want to emphasize, in no way negates the possibility of low-frequency vibration, of great concern to some – not all – the people in this area.
There are not very many homeowners who live around here. Some of the farmers live elsewhere, and some of the farm workers are not permanent residents, and live in trailers. There are also people in various other professions, and some retirees.
Anyone who hosts a turbine receives rental payment for the land it’s on. Of those being paid, most are either content to stay or are able to rent out their land. I’m told that in Europe, those paid include anyone who can see a turbine from home. Those who believe they are suffering negative effects acknowledge these aren’t universal; payment to all in view of any turbines would mean a better market for those who feel the need to move.
Now, everyone here is, to one extent or another, trapped. That the turbines are automated, with final control wired to a California location, exacerbates concerns. People here feel response to any specifics – e.g. a single squeaky turbine – is slow-to-nonexistent.
There are now many turbines along and near the Lake Erie shore. It took a number of years for the Erie Shores Wind Farm, the turbines I’m now near, to get going. At http://www.erieshores.ca are some details about the history, government policies, and installation. AIM PowerGen Corporation has erected 18 Vestas turbines in the groupings called Clear Creek, Cultus, and Frogmore, (6 turbines each) around Clear Creek and in the immediate area north and east of it, and 20 General Electric/General Electric Canada turbines from Jacksonburg, just west of Clear Creek, to Elgin County Road 55, a stretch of about ten kilometres. AIM has since been acquired by International Power plc; their Canadian website is ‘under construction’.
At first, the turbine plans were greeted with favour around here, if not total enthusiasm. As one who thinks they’re graceful, and finds watching their gentle spinning induces meditative relaxation, I can nonetheless understand how others might find them a visually-polluting blight. It’s personal – I think cellular telephone towers are hideously ugly, and attempts to mask them (I’ve seen a flagpole! and an impossibly enormous plastic pine tree!) hilarious.
The turbines have been rotating here for about 18 months. Now, those who have perceived and reported ill effects feel ignored, abandoned, of little consequence. They are very upset. Some cite hearing loss, and constant exhaustion and difficulty concentrating, and/or various sorts of pain and discomfort. As well, people here point to two suicides, and a recent miscarriage at four months.
That it is impossible to know whether any of this is in fact turbine-caused is perhaps the point. We don’t know precisely because nobody has made the effort to find out. Those who feel affected cite research elsewhere which supports their concerns, but those in any position to address these concerns are not responding. The ethical importance of respecting and addressing individuals’ concerns should not require reminders.
One direct cause of the problem may be the funding structure for the turbines. Evidently, only 25% of the profit stream is staying in Canada. Who set things up like that? It would seem to be a terrible precedent not only for Canadian energy independence but also for local sustainability.
People here describe themselves as having a culture of not complaining, feel they’re only opening their mouths now because they’ve been pushed hard. They believe in democracy, and saying one’s piece.
There is a time when challenging is crucial. We cannot solve our energy problems either by rejecting wind out-of-hand, or by riding roughshod over anyone who seems to perceive ill effects from the technology.
Local control would help. In some places in Europe, I’m told, one or more turbines that e.g. affect sleep, or are noisier when the wind comes from a particular direction, can be shut off for a period by those closest. Keeping profits at home would seem axiomatic.
More careful positioning would make a difference. The ones here were erected before the Ontario Green Energy Act’s 550-metre setback was initiated; some are closer. One is in fact sufficiently close to Lake Erie that the rapid shore erosion may threaten it within a few years. People here advocate relating setback to the number and size of turbines in an area. It is felt here that the western group of turbines was sited more kindly than the eastern group. This is not at all evident from the map showing 30 in the western area, of which 20 have been erected; on-the-ground details make a difference. (I posted the map at http://www.facebook.com/voteellen as my Status Update yesterday, November 24; it’s now both on my Profile and in my Wall Photos.) Locating a group of turbines may well be no small challenge in our landscape, with farmhouses spaced widely, each on its own land, rather than grouped in settlements, as in some farming areas in other countries.
Some research has already given useful results, more would be welcome, but waiting for the perfect study that will give us all the info we need is fruitless. We already know that the longer the power lines from source to use, the more power is lost, which means we need generation as close to end users as possible. One solution proposed for separating people and turbines, yet having them close enough to avoid too much transmission-line loss, is offshore turbines. People here wonder about research on long-term effects on water life, such as fish. Another issue is size: the turbines I’m now near are newer and larger than many that have been relied on for years: is there a healthy maximum we’ve exceeded? And developing any and all sorts of responsible grid improvement methods would be welcome.
Meanwhile, perhaps the beneficiaries of the power being generated here can consider some sort of no-fault, one-time-only compensation to the local residents who are suffering. The precautionary principle is an appropriate basis. One possibility is payment; another is support for research into mitigation methods. Consensus-building would result in a mutually-agreeable plan. This would set a responsible example, demonstrating how the needs of all of us for clean energy cannot be met at the expense of ill effects for some of us. In favour of settlement of some kind – that so few are negatively affected means the negotiation procedure would be unlikely to be onerous, and the cost would be relatively small. And it would set a worthy precedent for the need to factor adverse effects into cost estimates for future projects.
All of this needs to be in an energy efficiency context. All environmentally-responsible energy sources need to be utilized. I’ve learned about an initiative the Norfolk Victims of Industrial Wind Turbines recommend. Solar film on rooftops, I’m told, has an enviable performance record in places both more and less sunny than here; installing it would mean green jobs and long-term benefits.
And here’s the last concern I’ll broach for today. Some of those objecting to wind power say they’d rather live near a nuclear power plant. They are willing to trade the possibility of a life-ending nuclear accident for the certainty they feel of ongoing health damage. These people believe many wind power opponents become perforce nuclear power supporters.
Pitting supporters of one energy source against those for another is not the way to address our need for clean energy. I’ll be clear: I myself oppose nuclear power. In my view, the fiduciary irresponsibility government after government has shown is reason enough to fear taking that path once again. And people who point out that the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, don’t seem to be aware of management possibilities, and don’t remember that other energy sources have proven less than reliable. Because nuclear power has set a precedent of irresponsibility doesn’t mean we should perpetuate and expand our irresposibility to other energy sources. We can develop wind power productively and respectfully. Let’s.