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A wind farm in a corn field in Southwestern Ontario, July 2012. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)
A wind farm in a corn field in Southwestern Ontario, July 2012. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)

Industry’s approach in wind turbine debate needs improvement, says association chief Add to ...

Canada’s wind energy companies must do a much better job of getting community support for turbines, which are generating vocal opposition in some parts of the country, the head of the industry trade association acknowledged.

The public and political debate over turbines – particularly heated in Ontario – can be “painful” for the wind power business, Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung told a conference in Toronto Tuesday. But that debate should be embraced by the industry, he said. “We have an enviable track record, we have nothing to hide, [and] we have a good story to tell.”

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He also noted that hundreds of millions of dollars from wind farms are paid in property taxes to local municipalities and in land lease payments to farmers and other land owners.

But the industry has to work harder at earning support, Mr. Hornung said, noting that some wind power developers have found creative ways to support communities, by contributing money to local projects and education funds.

He characterized as “misconceptions and myths” the ideas – raised by many opponents – that wind power has pushed up electrical prices, and that turbines harm human health, kill large numbers of birds, and depress property prices in the vicinity.

Still, in countering these ideas the industry “has to be respectful, and we have to be good listeners … and we always have to respond to questions and concerns that come forward,” Mr. Hornung said. The industry “can never assume community support. It has to be earned and it has to be maintained.”

A coalition of Ontario municipalities that don’t want turbines located nearby says it has now grown to include 71 towns across the province. The “Unwilling Host” coalition says it has seen what turbines have done to other municipalities, and does not want the same thing to happen to its members. Community benefit programs and sponsorships “do not address the core problems being created when wind turbines are located too close to people,” the group said in a statement issued just before the wind energy conference began.

The coalition also said its members want “real planning authority” for wind turbines to be returned to local government.

Don McCabe, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told the conference that many developers have done a “lousy job” in the way they got landowners to sign leases to allow turbines to be placed on their properties, often playing neighbours off against each other.

It is essential, Mr. McCabe said, that money flows to everybody in the region of a wind farm, not just the owners of the land where the turbines are situated. “When you put a turbine next door to me, and I’m not receiving any money out of that project, it is very easy to get sour in a hurry,” he said.

Ontario has the largest number of turbines of any Canadian province, generating about 2,400 megawatts of power – enough electricity to power more than 700,000 homes. That’s about 3 per cent of the province’s power capacity.

Wind-generated electricity is now cheaper than all other forms of power, except natural gas, and should be expanded to produce 15 per cent of the energy in Ontario by 2031, Mr. Hornung said.

In all the provinces, wind turbines have the capacity to generate a total of about 7,000 MW of power.

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