By Connor Lynch
BERWICK — Ontario approved a 33-turbine, 100-megawatt project in North Stormont, just days before the provincial election kicked off and parliament was dissolved.
The project would place 31 turbines on top of a highly vulnerable aquifer, and would in fact be out of compliance with Ontario’s current noise regulations the moment it starts operations, according to local opposition group, Concerned Citizens of North Stormont.
Just days before the project was approved, a petition with more than 3,000 signatures was delivered to the provincial parliament asking the government to “make it mandatory that all renewable energy developers use the new noise modelling regulations for the health of all those living with wind turbine projects,” said local turbine opponent Ruby Mekker, a former farmer in Stormont County.
The government did not do so. The Nation Rise Wind Farm was approved on May 4, with the condition that the developer, EDP Renewables Canada Ltd., not begin piledriving foundations or blasting until the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change signs off on their groundwater and vibration monitoring plans. The wind farm, since it was sought under the first round of government procurement, was allowed to use the older, less strict, standards for noise.
After hearing horror stories out of Chatham-Kent in Western Ontario, local residents were concerned about the possible impact on their aquifer, said Mekker.
Residents in Chatham-Kent have been sounding alarm bells for over a year, after many reported their water had turned black or cloudy after the North-Kent Wind Farm developer, Samsung, started piledriving, causing vibration and dislodging black shale.
A Kent County group, Water Wells First, blames the vibration caused by the development. Samsung responded by commissioning a report that concluded development activities were not to blame. The province agreed.
Residents have questioned those results. MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex-NDP) was ejected from the provincial parliament in March after bringing in a water sample from a resident and demanding that acting environment minister David Zimmer drink it. A University of Windsor professor, Joel Gagnon, announced in March that he would be doing his own study on local water quality. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has tested samples sent to it and concluded, although unsightly, the water is safe to drink. Chatham-Kent officer of health David Colby has reviewed the sampling the ministry has done on local wells, and found nothing to indicate a health hazard, he said. He’s sympathetic to people whose water has gone cloudy or black, but “I don’t see any reason to be concerned here.”
Yet Chatham-Kent residents are largely unwilling to drink their dirty-looking water. With so many turbines sitting on top of a vulnerable aquifer, North Stormont residents fear possible effects on their own water supply. About 60 local residents had their well-water tested to establish a baseline, said Berwick-resident and opposition group member Margaret Benke. It cost about $200 per well. “It should help us, but it will only if the turbine goes in,” Benke said.
About 30 residents in the area agreed to host turbines. It has fractured the community, said Benke. Turbines are extremely contentious, and rifts have grown between those who saw them as an opportunity and those who saw them as a threat. “This community matters to me,” Benke said. “It matters to all of us.”
Most wind turbine projects are in Western Ontario. There are three operating wind turbine projects in Eastern Ontario: Wolfe Island, the Kingston area and at Brinston, south of Winchester.