Jeff Green | Jul 16, 2015

A lot has been written and said about the proposals for wind turbines in Addington Highlands and North Frontenac. Most of the strongest, and certainly the loudest, points have been made by those who oppose the very idea of wind turbines in the region.

One of the reasons for this is that the two companies that are involved have made their pitches at meetings and directly to Council, whereas the opposition has been making their case to the public in order to bring pressure to bear on council from the outside.

Since North Frontenac made a pre-emptive decision on the matter in early June, Addington Highlands Council has become the main focus of the lobbying efforts.

This pressure was apparent at the AH Council meeting on July 6, when the stress felt by members of the Council, on both sides of the debate, was palpable. That stress, as much as anything, was the reason the formal debate on supporting the RES-Canada and/or NextEra proposals was deferred for two weeks.

This happened soon after Council had narrowly rejected a motion by Councilor Tony Fritsch to declare itself “an unwilling host for wind projects”.

The matter will not end with the vote next Monday, but Council will be off the hot seat, at least for a while. If they say yes, the proposals that are on the table will be submitted as bids to the IESO (Independent Electric Service Operator) for a decision later this fall, and if they say no, somewhat altered bids will go forward to the same body.

There is a carrot and stick approach being taken by the companies. If Council says yes, they will receive a piece of the profits and the companies’ commitments to work to accommodate as many of the concerns of the people who live in the vicinity of the turbines. If they say no, the money and the desire to co-operate will diminish, or disappear entirely.

One of the proponents told me he believes they can still win the procurement if the township says no, but in that case driving the bid price down that will be their goal. They will be less likely to alter turbine locations to keep their neighbours from being impacted. The project will be entirely cost conscious. In other words, all bets will be off.

The opposition has a strong point when they say that it is the provincial government that has pitted them against members of council who support turbines. The local councillors are taking the heat and the provincial government will get the wind power generation they want without having to face any angry voters.

This is certainly the case, although it is the first time that municipalities have had any role in determining the location of energy production, which is something they have been asking for. And it has yielded a financial offer, which would not have been on the table otherwise.

The role that the Frontenac News will take on this issue is to ensure, in light of somewhat cavalier national and regional media coverage, that some of the facts are on the table.

An example of this is the Dark Skies argument. On CBC Ottawa and in the Whig Standard there were reports late last month that wind turbine projects would damage viewing of the night sky and that North Frontenac's Dark Skies designation would or could be put in danger by the turbines.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) is the agency that granted North Frontenac its Dark Skies designation.

James Edgar, the president of the society, said this about turbines: “While we in the RASC generally do not support the intrusion of unshielded lights into a Dark-Sky Preserve, particularly those that will impinge on the prime intention -- to create or protect an area with dark skies -- there are obviously more considerations than just that.” He noted that mitigation has successfully preserved the view of the night sky in a number of locations in Ontario where wind turbines have been installed.

Robert Dick, who teaches courses in astronomy at both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, is the chair of the light pollution abatement committee of RASC. He worked on the Dark Skies designation in North Frontenac. He said that he does not think the turbines would have any impact on the viewing at the township's observation pad, nor would they affect the designation. He also said that, historically, relations with wind power companies and astronomers have been positive.

“Historically they have been very receptive in trying to minimize the impact on the environment,” he said.

He also said that he was not contacted by CBC Ottawa before they aired an item about wind turbines threatening North Frontenac's Dark Skies designation.

The main argument being made by the opposition to the turbines remains intact however, and has been buttressed just this week by MPP Hillier and MP Reid (see press release).

It is that a vision for developing Crown Land in North Frontenac and Addington Highlands as an eco-tourist paradise now that the Algonquin Land Claim seems to be headed for a settlement within years rather than decades, is not consistent with wind turbines.

Whether it is true that North Frontenac and Addington Highlands are on the cusp of an eco-tourism boom and that turbines would ruin all that is an open question.

Finally, a few words about conflict of interest. Charges of conflict were laid at the feet of Councilor Helen Yanch a few weeks ago, and she addressed them at Council on July 6. Councilors are expected to recuse themselves from any vote at council where they have a financial interest in the outcome.

Yanch is the co-owner, with her husband, of a class B pit in the south end of the township. The charge of conflict comes from the idea that if the turbine projects move forward, roads would be built and the Yanch pit operation would benefit by selling material to help build those roads.

In declaring that those assertions are “ludicrous” at council, Yanch was effectively saying that she will not benefit financially if the turbines are built. It is not for Council to decide if a councilor is in conflict; it is a judgement call to be made by the council member themselves. If a decision does lead to benefit and that can be proven in court, they would face the legal consequences.

Interestingly enough, on the other side of the debate, Councilor Fritsch may have, inadvertently, created a conflict for himself. His own house would be in sight of up to three towers under the RES-Canada proposal, which does not in itself create a conflict because there is no evidence that the value of his property would decrease as a result.

However, in his plea for the township to declare itself an “unwilling host for turbines” Fritch's final point under the heading “economic effects” was the following: “Property devaluation: Reduction in number of potential buyers. Overall drop in value with wind turbines in sight or the apparent potential for future turbine developments.”

What Fritsch may have done with this public statement, according to a lawyer who works for municipalities, is “create his own box” by asserting there is a financial advantage for himself if the proposal is defeated.

All this is clearly ludicrous, however. Tony Fritsch is not trying to protect his own property values and Helen Yanch is not trying to sell gravel. They will be voting on Monday with no other motivation than what they see as the best interests of Addington Highlands ratepayers, and to deprive them of a vote would leave only three people voting, which is not in anyone’s interest.

The point of all this is that the debate about wind turbines in Addington Highlands should be settled on real issues, not fabricated ones.

While the opposition is only doing what comes naturally, throwing up as many arguments against the turbines that they can come up with, they need to be aware of the risk that some of the less credible arguments could actually damage their cause.

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