Jul 01, 2015

In recent weeks, we've had some interesting debates around our office about wind turbines in North Frontenac and Addington Highlands. To settle matters, we settled on a duel. Jonas Bonnetta has written a column opposing wind turbines, and I wrote one supporting them. Here they are, in alphabetical order by last name  - Jeff Green

The No Vote

by Jonas Bonetta

Definition of BRIBE: money or favour given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust.

It's difficult to describe Nextera's “community vibrancy fund” as anything but a bribe. They are offering cold, hard cash to Reeve Hogg and his fellow councillors in exchange for a letter of support saying Addington Highlands supports Nextera's bid to install 50-100 wind turbines across the township. I say 50-100 because Nextera hasn't given the public a final number yet and Addington-Highlands Council is being pushed to make their decision by Monday. It's a decision being based on a series of unknowns that could have dire consequences for the township. Here's what Nextera has told us: They are going to build some turbines. (That number went from 50 to “approximately” 100 on Tuesday. While Hogg and the Council are trying to make a difficult decision that will affect the township for the next 20 years, the number has doubled and is subject to change again.)

They can't say for sure where the turbines will be. (The company is yet to release exact locations.) They won't yet confirm the specifications of the turbines they will install. (We do know that the ones proposed would be significantly taller than Bon Echo Rock.)

They can't confirm where the transmission lines will run. (The current proposed route runs west of highway 41 and north of the park and is subject to change.)

How can Council possibly make an informed decision when such crucial questions remain unanswered? Furthermore, a miscalculation by Council on this isn't merely a laughable misstep. We're not talking about choosing the wrong paint colour here. We're talking about massive tracts of woodlands being destroyed to make way for the turbines, access roads being built through sensitive hunting areas, sightlines from your dock being interrupted by towers of steel, and irreversible damage to a pretty magical part of Ontario.

All of this just for money.

I understand it's a substantial amount of money that council would be getting from Nextera. As small townships on smaller budgets struggle to keep their roads maintained, their policing in place, and their taxpayers happy, this can't be an easy offer to turn down. But what do they sacrifice by taking this bribe from Nextera?

Addington Highlands' serene lakes, vast untouched forests, endless starry skies, and abundant wildlife are unique and rich with character. If the horizon becomes cluttered with industrial wind turbines then a significant portion of this is lost.

This isn't an issue of whether green energy is good or bad. It's not an issue of whether wind turbines will shake your house or spoil your secret fishing hole. It's not an issue of whether flashing red lights will disrupt your star-gazing or keep your child awake at night. It's an issue of selling off your identity. It's an issue of commodification. It's misinformation, corporate bullying, and shortsightedness. It's losing focus of the big picture.

I've driven back and forth to Denbigh these last few months, speaking with people for and against the turbines, sitting through presentations by Nextera, and getting lost in my own thoughts about what it all means for landowners, councillors, and cottagers and how to make the right decision. It's not an easy choice. But every time I come up over that big hill on Highway 41 that leads down to the Mazinaw and I see that infinite view I get goosebumps ...

... And then I get sad that there's a possibility that one day I'll come over that hill and see its once perfect, endless horizon littered with poor decisions.

The Yes Vote

by Jeff Green

In the matter of RES-Canada and NextEra's proposals for wind projects in Addington Highlands Council. Council alone has the legitimate authority to decide the township's official response. As well meaning and informed as Denbigh residents are, the township has a 150-year-old tradition of holding democratic elections, and making decisions about local infrastructure and service is the responsibility of Council.

Petitions and surveys from the public are relevant, as are studies and consultations with other municipalities. In the end, for the purposes only of a preliminary portion of the procurement process, Council is the judge and jury.

The township is guided by a clause in their Official Plan supporting green energy production, including wind.

But this is a specific case, and must be looked at on its own merit.

The relevant questions in this case are: 1) Are wind turbines a blight on the landscape? 2) Do they impinge on the legitimate enjoyment of their property for residents? 3) Will the new industrial infrastructure cost the township future development as a tourist region?

I have set a number of issues aside. Some of them are non-issues, such as the impact of wind turbines on Dark Skies; on the well being of land animals; and on property values in Addington Highlands as a general category. Concerns about these issues are baseless, the research shows.

Others, such as the viability of the Ontario Green Energy Act, environmental assessments, and decommissioning costs are all provincial issues and are covered off by a provincial process. The liability in all these instances goes to the province, and the province will make sure to cover that off. If nothing else they are good at protecting themselves.

Back to question number 1 – this is a value judgement, but I feel it is at the heart of the debate. People think turbines impinge on the 'pristine' wilderness in the region.

“Pristine wilderness” is a fallacy, however. The wilderness ceased being pristine when every tree was cut down 200 years ago, when highways were built, when land was cleared in a vain attempt to farm. There is also nothing pristine about poverty, broken-down houses and barns, and a lack of opportunity in a struggling community. There is nothing pristine about a township that has to either cut services or raise the taxes of people who have no money.

Question 2. People often buy their property for the view, but they only own their land. A turbine in the distance may not be welcome, but it is neither tragic nor an attack on property rights. A turbine within a kilometre of a property, one that dominates the sky, is another matter and council needs to insist that the companies address these circumstances.

Question 3. Addington Highlands has been diligently working on developing tourism-related businesses for many, many years. The end result has been dismal, a decline in tourism-related business instead of an increase. The idea that turbines in the vicinity of Denbigh will stop investment is laughable.

The township is one of very few in Ontario, if not the only one, with a building permit holiday for commercial enterprises. Little has come of it. Building on the tourism base of Bon Echo Park remains a dream and a goal, and turbines will not harm those efforts.

The land mass of Addington Highlands is 1300 square kilometres. The projects take up 500 acres, scattered among the hills. Surely there is enough room for turbines and tourism.

So long as the construction work is well managed and contained, and the turbine locations take into account distances and legitimate property owners concerns, the project will be good for Addington Highlands.

Due diligence requires that both offers be decided upon on their own merit. If one or both of them fall short, so be it. But a blanket no would be irresponsible.

And the offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for 20 years, which people can call a bribe if they so wish, will be a boon to the township.  

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