DIXONS CORNERS - Ninety-one people turned out to the inaugural meeting of a new local organization opposed to an impending wind turbine development in their rural community -- no small feat for the tiny hamlet of Dixons Corners in South Dundas Township.
Those who attended the South Branch Wind Opposition Group Nov. 21 meeting at the former public school building here listened raptly to a withering critique of Ontario's wind energy policy from a panel of speakers.
"So today, in Ontario, we have 30 per cent more generating capacity than we have need for - Because of the downturn, we simply do not need [extra] electricity for at least four years," said North Gower-based risk management consultant Dan Scharf, who added Quebec has more than enough power to meet Ontario's current and future needs anyway.
"We have the world's largest supplier of hydroelectricity a couple of hundred miles down the road, willing to sell it to us at approximately five cents [per kilowatt hour], and we are not even entering into an agreement with them," Scharf remarked with a tone of outrage. "And if that's not enough, folks, if you happen to be on the west end of Ontario, Manitoba's building a whole bunch of hydro as well. So this country is flush with power. We don't need wind turbines."
He asserted that anyone who believes in wind projects to consider the question: "What happens in Ontario if we don't build even one more turbine, what happens to our province?
"Nothing. We get cheaper electricity. That's what happens," he declared.
Scharf's main presentation highlighted the alleged safety risks of those employed in the wind industry, holding down what he deemed "McWind" maintenance and "low-level assembly" jobs.
"They're putting kids through paid-for programs in college right now to go up and do cleaning on blades on a 600-foot tower. One more little thing. This is an industry with one of the worst occupational health and safety records," he said, alleging the issue is suppressed by the sector. "People who work on these things are typically not well-trained, and strangely enough, many of them fall, many of them get hurt, and even get electrocuted - and it's just not talked about. Health and safety in the industry.
By "any statistical measure," the nuclear industry has a better safety measure than wind, he said. "You cannot come close to the amount of people that get hurt in the wind industry - as a person working in a plant, I'd much rather work in a nuclear plant than work on a wind turbine because it's just a safer place to work.
Jane Wilson, Chair of the North Gower Wind Action Group, focused on alleged -- but officially unproven -- risks to human health, which was also the concern of visiting guest presenters Lisa Michaud and her 20-year-old son, Josh. The Michaud's acknowledged launching a $1.5-million lawsuit against a wind developer near their Chatham-Kent hobby farm.
Lisa Michaud said her husband built a beautiful sunroom on their house, but she's no longer able to "enjoy" this oasis because the turbine puts off a low-frequency noise that makes her sick.
"Now, instead of having the comfort of my home, I have to leave to feel better, and that it is wrong," said Michaud, originally from Cornwall, who also compared the turbine's constant noise to "sneakers in the dryer."
Her son also claimed to be experiencing health effects and said the family had a number of household appliances fried by electrical surges on the grid.
"There is noise. There's the noise you can hear, and the noise you can't," said Wilson.
When Ontario's chief medical officer looked into the issue a few years ago, she "just did a literature review," said Wilson, who suggested the approach fell short of performing an actual new study. And Ontario's Ministry of the Environment lacks the equipment, technology or training to measure noise and its effect on human health, she said.
The new South Branch group was formed in reaction to Prowind Canada's planned 12- to 14-turbine project of the same name, which was awarded a power contract with the Ontario Power Authority and is actually further along in the process than the contentious North Gower project.
The South Branch project could break ground as early as next year and no later than 2013.
Leslie Disheau, an organizer with the new opposition group, said that more meetings would be held. She also urged the group to attend thre upcoming open house sessions that Prowind is planning in December and January.
The format of the company's open house sessions also came under fire at the Nov. 21 gathering. Michaud said they're intentionally set up to prevent large groups from verbally asking questions - and receiving answers - collectively.