Monday, March 26, 2012

Wind Farms Will Cause Trouble Again

 There are three big wind farm proposals in the works in Cumberland County these days, and they all look like they will cause us trouble. We have a proposal for a site on the Gulf Shore, near Pugwash; we have another up high on the hills behind the Wentworth Hostel stretching over almost to the quarry at the top of Folly Mountain, and we have an expansion of the existing but not yet operational wind farm on the Tantramar Marsh just outside of Amherst.

It's important to remember that wind farms are not really about generating electricity as much as they are about generating a return on capital employed. They cost millions of dollars per turbine to install, and the cost of the control panel and switching equipment to feed power into the electrical grid is huge as well. The returns are pretty good, though. I have seen reports that Nova Scotia Power pays as much as $.50 per kilowatt-hour for the power from these machines, and they sell that power to you and me for $.12. How's that good for the Province? I am sure that there is a bigger picture that I am not seeing.

The other big problem with wind turbines is that the power generated is intermittent but the load is not. In order to balance the load many utilities have large gas-fired turbines spinning just in case the power is needed. There have been reports that Denmark, with its impressive development of windpower, relies heavily on fossil-fueled generating plants in Germany to keep their grid in balance.

There seems to be a very nice pilot project happening in Summerside, PEI where the city-owned utility has a few turbines outside town, they have fibre-optic-connected smart meters and switches on a number of homes, and some space heating and hot water loads are only turned on when there is wind power available. Here in Nova Scotia we can purchase a home space heater which runs at night when the load is light and releases the heat during the day when grid loads are at peak. Time-of-day pricing makes this system economical. In Summerside they are using the same idea but they are controlling the heaters to coincide with wind power availability. I have heard that the system is working and shows promise.

The wind farm proposed for the Gulf Shore is much in the news because people on the shore don't want visual pollution of wind turbines, and they are afraid of the effects of the noise. This last issue is one of the most difficult ones to deal with because so much of it is subjective. Some investigations have determined that the noise of the turbines is not a problem for nearby residents who profit from the development, while the same noise is offensive to people who do not. There is also a great deal of difference in the noise depending upon wind direction, speed and variability. Sometimes the noise is loud and offensive when the winds are shifting and the turbines are rotating on their towers. The noise may be worse if you are downwind from the turbines as opposed to upwind. The noise may be amplified if there are many turbines turning in synch, and it may be discordant if the turbines come in and out of synch. And the lay of the land may affect the way the turbine noise funnels down on one house while it is deflected away from another nearby.

I do know that people have moved away from the windfields in Pubicno, NS and Cape North on PEI. Supporters of the industry say that there is no proof that the sound causes health troubles while others say that the fact that people have abandoned their homes is proof enough. I spoke to a lady who lives 1.3 kilometres from a turbine in Earltown and she said that the noise is worse on a calm day when there is no breeze to stir the leaves and make a white noise in her yard but there is wind higher up to turn the rotors and make the whop-whop-whop sound. Her imitation of the noise chilled me.

My sympathies in this case lie with the residents who worry about the noise. It must be hugely frustrating to be driven away from your home without any redress because you cannot "prove" that the noise is intolerable, and the investors who are causing the trouble have no noise in their yards far away. At least when one lived next door to a pig farm one knew that the farmer lived there also, probably even closer.

The visual pollution is a much harder issue to tackle as a matter of public policy. People in Canada generally have a right to do what they wish on their property, and that right can only be infringed when there are larger issues of community rights to be considered. If your land contains a gravel bed you are generally entitled to remove the gravel and the community can only control such matters as dust, traffic and noise. You must also not pollute watercourses or groundwater. If you live in a residential area you would not normally be permitted to construct a factory which would change the nature of the community and adversely affect your neighbours' quiet enjoyment of their properties. I doubt that visual pollution will ever be a factor in the licensing process as it is simply too subjective.

But this also brings me to another point, which is: where are our politicians in all of this? I had always thought that the whole idea behind representative government was to prevent outsiders from oppressing us and exploiting our resources and stealing our property. When an outside developer comes along and builds a project that steals value and peace from the community, that developer is in effect expropriating the value of the land of his neighbours, for his own benefit. Why are our MLA's not out in front of this issue?

If you were to drive from Parrsboro to Pictou along the north base of the Cobequid Hills you would see some fabulous colours (in early October) but you would also see about 100 miles of mountaintop windfarm sites with excellent wind profiles and almost no-one to bother but the bears and the blueberries. Why does a windfarm have to go in a populated area of the Gulf Shore when it could go just as well at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere?

The wind farm on the top of Folly Mountain will be close to some homes and ski cottages and I hope that they are not bothered by the noise. Some folks are concerned about the cross-country trails that wind all through that area up behind the hostel, and it would be a shame to lose them.

The turbine project that I am watching most closely is on the Tantramar Marsh, where the construction of the first part is complete and the turbines will be brought online gradually this spring. Those turbines look to be very close to homes along Victoria Street and in Fort Lawrence and I hope that residents there do not suffer from noise pollution. The developers are now looking to install more turbines in the area across the highway, much closer to downtown Amherst. I sure hope that no approvals are given for that project until the blades have been spinning in the first phase for at least a year. Phase One is a big project and there will be lots of turbines working out there where everyone can see them and hear them, and the owners of property along the marsh in Amherst deserve the right to hear for themselves what a windfarm sounds like before another one is parked on their doorstep.

And for folks who like political theatre, there will be nothing better to watch than a bunch of aggrieved Amherst residents crowding the Cumberland County council chambers to complain about the 600 metres setback requirement for a windfarm project in the County that affects residents of the Town. Previous councils have been very good at ignoring the wishes of cottagers along the Northumberland Shore who pay taxes but have no vote (transfer stations and garbage issues), so imagine their response to citizens who pay no taxes and have no vote (Amherst residents) but want County Council to get in the way of a windfarm that pays big taxes to the County! Theatre indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment