A man rides his bike by a wind park in Palm Springs, California. Alena Schram writes how turbines have torn apart her idyllic community of Amherst Island, Ont.
Watch out. It could happen in your community
I love the look of serene, shimmering wind turbines standing sentry on a hill. Especially when they’re in some isolated place. In Europe.
And green energy delights me. I’d like to bequeath my grandchildren a clean Earth. And the many billions of dollars they — and the government — will need to pay for it.
I’m resigned to our house value plummeting once the 36 turbines proposed for our small rural community are in place. Our children have promised to look after us when our nest egg suddenly evaporates. “You and Dad just need a bedroom and bathroom, Ma, and a blender in case you sometimes want steak!,” son Peter explained obligingly.
I even get that my neighbours who have signed contracts to have turbines installed on their land — especially those tethered to hardscrabble family farms — regard turbine payouts as their pension incomes.
I am, in short, a progressive, responsible, ecologically sound, live-and-let-live sort of person.
I do my live-and-let-living on an idyllic island near Kingston, where the Presbyterians still hold Strawberry Socials each summer; the Anglicans still host Turkey Dinners in autumn; and where, if you go into hospital for even a night, you’d better have a freezer empty enough to hold the casseroles your neighbours will deliver to your door.
We have a volunteer fire department and first response team (the very best, I discovered first-hand last summer), an 1870s clapboard general-store-cum-post-office, a summertime cafe where the old wooden screen door snaps evocatively shut when you let go, and Canada’s smallest FM radio station, broadcasting from a silo.
Our ferry connects the 450 permanent residents to the mainland and to each other. In winter we sit in each other’s cars, catching up on news or organizing, empathizing, celebrating; and in summer we lean over the deck’s railing, watching for Northern Lights, and agreeing how lucky we are to have found — or been born on — such a place.
It’s a storybook setting.
Rumours are ricocheting: that it was stealthily planned (“psst, wanna turbine?”); that contracts included non-disclose clauses (“psst, don’t tell anyone till it’s a done deal!”); that there’ll be a turbine right by the primary school (“don’t worry, the kids’ll be OK”); that the private power company salivating over the possible contract has offered the township a “donation” (taxpayer-funded) of $7.5-million that comes with a gag order.Or at least it was, until wind turbines reared their ugly 507-foot-high heads, threatening to alter the lives of not just the 17 landowners that signed up to host them, but the 96% of islanders that didn’t. Now we’ve got a schism. And it happened before anyone knew it.
The large and active No-Turbines side claims to have the support of the mayor, county council, Conservative MPP and MP, and 90 municipalities. And the Auditor General, Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Fraser Institute seem negatively disposed as well.
Apparently that’s not enough. This train with just 17 passengers aboard — and a crew that includes wealthy investors, a clutch of Liberal provincial government ministers, and a gaggle of lobbyists with Liberal party ties — is heading, full steam ahead, right for our heritage village.
Dalton McGuinty used to be on board too, shovelling the coal: He was proud of the $7-billion deal he struck with Samsung, to build these behemoths.
The nays have mobilized (the yeas don’t need to: they’re clenching signed contracts): They’ve warned about the documented and mounting dangers to hearing, health, sanity, and birds, especially the owls the island is famous for.
Busloads of island activists have travelled to Toronto to persuade Queen’s Park. Letters have appeared in the media. Civic insurrection has even been threatened (and if you’re old enough to recall the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors ’ protests nearly 60 years ago in Saskatchewan and B.C., you’ll understand my apprehension? They made their stand in the nude).
So now here’s the loaded question: Whither democracy? How can 17 people with a direct financial interest make decisions that affect an entire community? And how can a private publicly listed corporation with powerful friends and the promise of taxpayer-funded subsidies steam ahead despite widespread protest, and without a referendum?
And the kicker: How can a township duty-bound to represent all its constituents without bias accept funds from an energy company with a whole lot of skin in the game, to pay for a lawyer to represent us all, equally?
Watch out. It could happen in your community.
“Psst, wanna turbine?”
Didn’t think so.
Alena Schram is a resident of Amherst Island, Ontario