Wolfe Island, Five Years of Living With Turbines

Living with wind turbines
Most residents okay with wind turbines after five years
By Brandy Harrison
WOLFE ISLAND — The mere whisper of wind turbines can fuel tensions in communities long before the tall towers and whirring blades are erected, but even after years of living beneath them, those first impressions — love ‘em or hate ‘em — linger on, a Farmers Forum survey suggests.
Across the water from downtown Kingston on Wolfe Island, residents have been staring at 86 wind turbines for five years and time hasn’t healed many wounds or made proponents jump off the bandwagon.
A large majority of islanders either approve or say they aren’t affected by the turbines. But while many say quality of life is unchanged since the 80-metre turbines and their 45-metre blades started capturing the breeze in June 2009, most admit they know people who are still angry.
Wolfe Island hosts the fifth-largest project in Ontario by number of turbines and the third largest by megawatts after the recently-operational 124-turbine South Kent wind project between Tilbury and Ridgetown and the 133-turbine Melancthon wind project near Shelburne.
Farmers Forum handed out pencils and one-page questionnaires on the morning of June 18 as residents lined up in vehicles to get on the ferry to Kingston, boarded the ferry on foot, or ate breakfast at a local restaurant. The island is home to about 1,400 permanent residents and cottagers.
The 10-question survey of 200 islanders (one for every seven residents) prompted five main observations:
— Most people approved of the project from the outset and still do. Of the few opinions that changed, most switched to the pro-turbine camp.
— Money talks. Most people gave wind turbines a passing grade because of the economic impact to the island, including the lucrative annual payment made to the township by the project operator.
— Wind turbines don’t much affect daily life. For 68 per cent of respondents, quality of life is unchanged or has improved.
— But not all is rosy. Most respondents know people who are still upset.
— A few homes have sold but residents haven’t moved off the island in droves.
Here is a closer look at those five conclusions.
1. First impressions last.
An impressive 75.5 per cent of respondents say they approve or are not affected by the turbines. The bulk of residents surveyed — 69 per cent — have stuck to their guns, not wavering from their initial stance. But 12 per cent were swayed by the benefits, and now approve or say the turbines don’t affect them. Two per cent switched the other way.
One woman who was initially concerned notes “I hardly notice them now — much like a hydro pole.”
Total agreement on Wolfe Island is a pipe dream, says one woman.
“There will never be 100 per cent support of turbines, for a variety of reasons. People don’t like change. I know of no negative impact due to turbines on Wolfe Island. Only those who have never supported the project, and they are few, continue to complain,” she says.
The survey included 40 people who either have a turbine on their property or on the property of a relative. Of those, 34 approve, two are on the fence, and four disapprove, citing increased ferry traffic, unsightliness, and noise.
2. Money talks — the turbines are an economic boost.
More than half of Wolfe Islanders surveyed — 106 people — support the project because of its economic impact.
“The island makes good on them,” says one woman.
The project operator, TransAlta, has an amenities agreement with the Township of Frontenac Islands, which includes Wolfe Island, Howe Island, and a few other small islands. The township has used the $645,000 annual payment to upgrade roads, install a cooling system and a roof on the outdoor rink, and support local community groups. For the last few years, $100,000 annually has also been set aside in a trust fund for community project grants.
Respondents also cite environmental benefits (38 people) and appearance (28) as advantages.
“There is a low whirring sound but otherwise they aren’t noticeable. It’s renewable energy. It’s got to be in someone’s backyard,” says a woman whose home is surrounded by three turbines.
Other reasons people give wind power a positive review include road or community improvements (2 people), electricity rate reduction (1), need for power generation (1), and “a reason for our island to exist” (1).
A few people target the detractors. “All this is crap! No valid studies showing they cause any negative effect on humans or wildlife,” says one woman, while another writes that flicker shadow effect “is a joke! Imagine what they would say if they lived by a train or subway.”
3. Turbines are only a small intrusion on everyday life.
Half of survey respondents indicate their quality of life hasn’t changed, but another 18 per cent say quality of life has improved. One woman, who lives one kilometre from turbines, says her sleep apnea is gone.
Others point to infrastructure, community, or economic improvements.
But nearly one-quarter of people surveyed — 48 people — say quality of life has plummeted.
“Not the pastoral setting it once was,” notes one man, while another regrets his “loss of enjoyment of home — cannot sit at front of house due to noise.” One woman simply writes “hate them.”
Ferry overcrowding frustrates 17 residents surveyed and 10 people say their quality of life is worse because turbines have divided families and friends. “Less friendly. People on different sides suspicious,” notes one man.
Other comments point to turbines killing birds, health problems, noise, red lights at night, and unsightliness.
4. Not all is rosy: Some people are still angry.
Sixty-five per cent say they know someone who is still angry — “it’s a lifetime problem,” says one woman — but 10 respondents qualified their answer, saying that continued strife is limited to very few people.
“The few who have complained are just that, complainers,” comments one man. One woman says some people are angry but “oddly enough, not anyone who lives near one.”
Four people, who have turbines, finger jealousy as the problem.
The turbine opponents are the minority: Just shy of one-quarter disapproved of wind turbines.
They have a laundry list of reasons why they pan the wind project: land devaluation (41 people), noise (36), eyesore (35), too many turbines (33), health concerns (32), environmental concerns (31), flicker shadow effect (20), cost (7), inefficient power source (2), increased ferry traffic (2), lights at night (2), killing birds (2), little or no benefit for islanders (2), lack of consultation (1), lack of setback regulation (1), higher power bill (1), and an unknown future after contract expires (1).
5. Few moved away and a few moved in.
Some people have been angry enough to leave the island. Fifty-six people surveyed say they know of at least one house sale connected to the wind project and 10 people say it’s five or more.
“The township threw the residents under the bus,” says a woman who says she knows of 10 homes that were sold because of the turbines.
At the same time, eight survey respondents indicated that they moved to the island since the turbines went up. Only one of them disapproves of wind turbines, saying they’re ineffectual economically.

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