Ont. farmers urge halt to wind turbine development

(Allan Dawson photo)

Claiming an “untenable” and polarizing debate in rural Ontario over an inefficient power source, the province’s general farm organization now wants to see an end to industrial-scale wind turbine development.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) on Friday rolled out its new position statement on the issue and plans to present it to the provincial government later this month.

The position statement lists issues the OFA said must be addressed before any more turbine development contracts are allowed under the provincial feed-in tariff (FIT) program.

FIT, launched in 2009 and operated by the Ontario Power Authority, provides guaranteed pricing for renewable electricity production over 10 kilowatts, from sources such as solar panels, biogas, biomass, waterpower or on-shore wind.

Wind energy projects, for example, are eligible for 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour over a 20-year contract span. Almost 1,200 megawatts of wind power capacity were online in Ontario by the end of 2009.

The province announced a review of FIT, starting at the end of October, during which FIT applications will be accepted but not processed.

“We are hearing very clearly from our members that the wind turbine situation is coming to a head — seriously dividing rural communities and even jeopardizing farm succession planning,” OFA president Mark Wales, a vegetable producer at Aylmer, Ont., said in a release.

Industrial wind turbine (IWT) development “currently preoccupies the rural agenda,” the OFA said, noting residents “not engaged in turbine developments have been pitted against neighbours, over concerns with health impacts and quality-of-life issues.”

Furthermore, “expansion of Ontario’s dependence on wind turbines as a source of energy has been shown to be inefficient,” the group said.

Power from turbines is available “only when the wind blows, with it being highly unlikely this coincides with peak power usage at any time, let alone on a regular basis.”

Wind power is therefore “a costly means of generation as its output is most often sold at a loss on export markets,” the OFA said.

The farmers’ group also contends that recent amendments to the provincial Planning Act, taking IWT-related issues out of the hands of municipalities, “are not having the desired effect of providing for good planning.”

Allowing municipalities to have “an acceptable level of planning control” over site plan approval and to reach site plan agreements under the Planning Act would help ensure “appropriate treatment of matters such as road access, drainage, and proximity to property boundaries and natural heritage features,” the OFA said.

“A balance between the province’s power requirements and local autonomy regarding land use must be struck.”

“Comprehensive analysis”

The OFA statement also asks that prices paid for IWT power “and indeed, all renewable power” not exceed the expected price of peak power imports during the following six years, thus ensuring “a long-term supply or reasonably priced power.”

Future IWT developments, the OFA said, must also be required to have capacity to provide “dispatchable” power using batteries or other such environmentally acceptable storage.

Wind turbine developments should also be required to use “sufficiently gauged” service lines and “sufficiently high capacity” transformers to eliminate the inducement now seen in adjacent lines or buildings, the OFA said.

“Varying conditions and larger generating equipment” can also create exceptions to the current noise maximum of 40 decibels at a minimum setback of 550 metres for an IWT development, the OFA said.

Thus the province, it said, “must conduct a comprehensive analysis using local empirical data and international studies on adequate setback distances for IWT, based on the technology employed.”

The province, the OFA said, must also set up and put protocols in place to measure noise from IWT developments — including “continuous-tone and low-frequency noise” — and that measurement equipment and training be made available to municipalities.

The group said it had worked with the province since 2007, when IWT development began in Ontario, to develop regulations, while cautioning its farmer members on the pitfalls of wind leases and expressing concerns about pricing.

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