Writer urges David Suzuki to be mindful of sensitivity of some people to wind issue

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a letter to David Suzuki, who will be attending the connection of the Mother Earth Renewable Energy wind turbines in M’Chigeeng on June 15.

Dear Mr. Suzuki:

I understand that you will be visiting Manitoulin Island on June 15 to speak to the connection of the Mother Earth Renewable Energy (MERE) wind turbines in M’Chigeeng to the provincial grid. Firstly, I would like to extend a warm welcome and to thank you for taking an interest in our community. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for helping shape my interest in environmental issues and my passion for the natural world. I grew up watching ‘The Nature of Things’ and have read many pieces of your writing.

While I respect the great work you have done to bring environmental issues to the forefront, I am disappointed that you have decided to fully endorse industrial scale wind projects in Canada and abroad. I do not feel there is sufficient evidence to support the notion that industrial wind turbines will help slow climate change. However, I am not writing you to engage in a debate over the merits of the technology. I am more interested in your endorsement of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, particularly those aspects that apply to wind power.

The Green Energy Act has stripped away the ability of municipalities and provincial ministries to protect environmentally sensitive areas, important wildlife habitats, species at risk, and the health of rural communities. Our province is forcing wind projects on rural Ontarians despite legitimate concerns over health, environment, and economy.

Manitoulin Island is just one example, among many in the province, where it seems careless to move forward with large-scale wind projects when we have very little understanding of the long-term impacts that wind turbines have on ecosystems. Manitoulin Island has been identified as the most biologically diverse Island in all of the Great Lakes in a report titled “Islands of Life: A Biodiversity and Conservation Atlas of the Great Lakes Islands.” The US Nature Conservancy and its Canadian counterpart published the report recently; it is available at http://conserveonline.org/library/islands-of-life-a-biodiversity-and-conservation/view.html. The report also identifies Manitoulin as being most at risk of losing this biodiversity, due in part to future development.

I was pleased to see you address the need to protect bats from IWTs in a recent submission to the The Daily Press: “We also need to have proper environmental assessments before wind turbines are installed, to reduce harm to bats and minimize other environmental impacts.” I can assure you that this is not happening here in the province of Ontario.

However, I was disappointed after reading an essay you wrote entitled “The beauty of wind farms,” in which you distil the arguments from those trying to stop wind projects down to one of viewscapes. While many do object to the intrusion of IWTs on naturally beautiful viewscapes, this is certainly not the main objection. The beginning of your essay describes a willingness to share your mountain view with wind turbines: “Off the coast of British Columbia in Canada is an island called Quadra, where I have a cabin that is as close to my heart as you can imagine. From my porch on a good day you can see clear across the waters of Georgia Strait to the snowy peaks of the rugged Coast Mountains. It is one of the most beautiful views I have seen. And I would gladly share it with a wind farm.” You finish the essay with, “And if one day I look out from my cabin’s porch and see a row of windmills spinning in the distance, I won’t curse them. I will praise them. It will mean we are finally getting somewhere.” While your thoughts on this may be taken as selfless and optimistic, it also seems to demonstrate a lack of consideration and sensitivity for the people who are forced to actually live with IWTs.

I think that opponents who are concerned only about viewscapes are very rare. Also, the majority of those involved with industrial wind project opposition are trying to protect their families from the very real negative consequences associated with living next to IWTs. Many families in Ontario are either forced to suffer in their homes, or they are selling their homes at a loss and trying to rebuild their lives elsewhere. While Ontario’s Green Energy Act does provide setbacks from homes, albeit inadequate setbacks, it affords no protection to cabins. Would you support the placement of an industrial wind turbine just a stone’s throw from your cabin on Quadra Island, instead of in someone else’s back yard, on a distant mountain range across the Georgia Strait?

While the MERE turbines in M’Chigeeng are community owned, other industrial wind projects planned for Manitoulin Island (e.g. Northland Power’s proposed McLean’s Mountain Wind Project) are not, and are exploitive of rural communities. I am certainly not alone in this belief; our provinces socially, environmentally, and economically irresponsible approach to wind power has resulted in a great deal of opposition to these types of projects in our community and across Ontario. It would be greatly appreciated if you could be sensitive to the concerns of our community when you speak on our magnificent Manitoulin Island.

Sincerely,

Nicolas Harfield

Sheguiandah

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