Who can stop the wind? These residents are trying - BUT others want to do their part in promoting GREEN energy, and reducing the use of fossil fuels
Kevin Elwood, centre, with neighbours Michael Dickinson, left, and Chuck Magwood hope to stop wind turbines with building like this within the 550 metre buffer zone.ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR
STAYNER—The little hut not far from the end of Kevin Elwood’s airstrip looks more like a hobbit house than anything: almost a play house, a mere 16 by 20 feet.
But since it comes complete with electricity, running water and a septic system it qualifies as a dwelling.
And it’s part of a game of tic-tac-toe between a wind developer and a group of local residents who want nothing to do with wind turbines.
The residents have been sprinkling mini-houses like Elwood’s in the path of proposed turbines – knowing that provincial rules forbid turbines from being erected within 550 metres of a dwelling.
It has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, permit fees and building materials.
“It has taken a lot of money and a lot of time,” says Elwood’s neighbour Chuck Magwood, who has 400 acres nearby, with a similar mini-house, one of seven in total that are either built, permitted, or under construction.
“But we haven’t even started to do what it takes to win.”
Another neighbour, Michael Dickinson, growls: “They’re trying to ram it down the wrong people’s throats.”
So far, they say they’ve raised $750,000 from about 100 donors to fund the battle.
Elwood, Magwood and other opponents like to paint themselves as Davids battling a Goliath wind developer – in this case WPD Canada, a unit of an energy company operating in 21 countries around the world.
But theirs isn’t the only side.
Six of the eight turbines in the proposed development will be on property leased from John Beattie, a neighbouring farmer.
Beattlie is as determined to win – and as convinced of the rightness of his position – as are his opponents.
He points to the current drought gripping Ontario as a symptom of climate change sweeping the planet.
He wants to do his part in promoting green energy, and reducing the use of fossil fuels.
“Last night I babysat three of my grandchildren,” Beattie said in an interview. “They’re six months, two years and five years. What am I leaving them? What’s the legacy?
“I will do whatever I can to help save the planet for my children and grandchildren. I am proud to be part of a green energy project. And if more green energy projects come along, I will jump into them with both feet.”
That doesn’t wash with Elwood, Magwood and Dickinson, who argue they want to preserve the rolling landscape of Clearview Township, where the ground starts to slope up toward the Niagara Escarpment.
Elwood, who runs a tree farm and nursery employing 22 workers, says he’s already seen business slow, as those who are drawn to the area to build scenic dream homes wonder whether they want to share the landscape with whirling white turbine blades by day, and flashing red lights by night.
“This is beautiful country – and this is where they pick to put the turbines,” says Elwood. “I don’t know anywhere there’s more beautiful rolling hills.”
Elwood is also a commercial pilot, flying his own aircraft from his farm, and piloting two Beaver aircraft out of nearby Collingwood airport.
Flying is another bone of contention: Elwood says the turbines intrude on normal take-off and landing paths, both on his own strip and in Collingwood. (The manager of the Collingwood airport has branded the decision to locate the turbines in the airport as “loony.”)
Forcing pilots to use non-standard approaches, he says, increases risks.
Kevin Surette, spokesman for the developer, WPD, says the company hired an aviation consultant who says the turbines are safe.
With his thriving nursery and flying businesses, Elwood perhaps doesn’t fill the bill as a barefoot David facing a hulking Goliath.
Nor do his supporters. While Magwood’s parents first bought land in Clearview in 1952, and he has owned his present land since 1993, Magwood is best remembered in Toronto as the man in charge of building the SkyDome, now the Rogers Centre.
Dickinson once owned a couple of radio stations in Vancouver.
But they are steadfast in their opposition to the turbines.
“There’s no place I can be on my 400 acres where I won’t be looking at one of those things,” said Magwood.
“I don’t like what they look like. I don’t like the political game plan. And the economic model is a joke.”
“My intent to preserve the values of this area is profound and rigid.”
Surette acknowledges the company has shifted the location of its turbines, but insists it’s not because of the development’s critics, or their new buildings.
“When this was all developing, additional lands became available to us, and we thought: Well, let’s use these additional lands and place our turbines there,” says Surette. “We did in fact move some turbines but it was not to accommodate the ancillary structures.”
(The opponents insist they did force WPD’s hand, because the company missed a filing deadline.)
WPD will hold a public meeting toward the end of the summer to detail its plans, as part of the process to obtain a feed-in tariff agreement with the province, Surette said.
But the bad blood remains. A group of landowners in the area are suing WPD and the farm business owned by John Beattie and his family, for damaging their property values.
Beattie is unrepentant.
“There is a group of people,” he said. “They are not what we call locals. They’re people who’ve come into the community for their secondary or tertiary homes. My family’s been in this are for generations. We’re living our lives and this dovetails perfectly with a farm business.”
Like his adversaries, Beattie vows not to back down.
“We’d never change our minds,” he says.
“Morally it’s the right thing to do.”
April 20, 2012