By Tom Collins and Patrick Meagher
AMHERST ISLAND — The blades on 26 new wind turbines on Amherst Island started turning in mid-June following a decade-long battle that divided the small island community west of Kingston and turned friend against friend.
Some people still don’t wave to neighbours. Others decline to buy products, from those who hold an opposing view, at the Saturday morning market.
The island (population 420) is now home to the fourth operating wind energy project in Eastern Ontario. About 350 islanders joined an association to stop the turbines. There are 86 turbines on the next island over, Wolfe Island, five more turbines just west of Kingston and 10 at Brinston, 20 minutes southeast of Kemptville. A Prince Edward County project that was under construction was recently cancelled by Premier Doug Ford as a cost-saving measure.
Several people said the Amherst Island community — you take a ferry to get there — was mostly split between two factions: The anti-turbine group included those who moved to the island since the 1990s and don’t own much land. The pro-turbine group consists of generational families with plenty of space to host turbines.
Sheep farmer Dave Willard, whose family has lived on the island since 1830, has two turbines on his farm, and said while things have gotten better, there are still four people who won’t wave to him when he passes by.
“These are not people I grew up with,” he said, adding that turbines are divisive because of the visual aspect. “It’s just the way it is. It doesn’t bother me much.”
There are 17 landowners hosting the 26 turbines. Willard said while there will be good years and bad years, he estimated he won’t earn less than $10,000 a year from each turbine. “It doesn’t matter. If it were $2,000 a year, that would be fine by me,” he said.
Sheep farmer Cherry Allen at Foot Flat Farm is Willard’s neighbour and used to have 1,600 ewes. But they had to cut back to 600 because of the turbine construction on land they rented.
Allen, who runs the farm with partner Mark Ritchie, said they run a closed flock and it will take about three to four years to get back to 1,600 ewes.
Allen, who opposes the turbines, said that one of Willard’s turbines is 700 metres from her house. She said she can hear the turbine but it’s far enough away that she blocks out the noise.
While she doesn’t find them an eyesore, “they remind me of all the angst that has gone before this and is still going on,” she said, adding she doesn’t think the community will heal for a generation. “It’s going to take that long for the community to rebuild. It’s pretty sad.”
Sheep farmer Ian Murray, of Topsy Farms, said his farm was approached several times by Algonquin Power to host a turbine. The farm is run by five partners, and Murray said one of the partners didn’t like the look of the turbines. Murray felt the wind companies wanted too much control.
“We felt it was inappropriate for Amherst Island,” he said. “Saying that, I have no problem with my neighbours. They signed up doing something legal and some of them did it because it was the green thing to do. I have a big problem with the previous Ontario government, making things so lucrative.”
While Murray hasn’t felt any tension first hand, he’s heard that people of opposing viewpoints won’t sit in the same pew at church.
“(The turbines are) here and people may as well accept that they are here,” he said. “They’re not going away.”
Homeowner Laurie Kilpatrick said the wind carries the noise that can sound like an airplane that never arrives or a constant “swish, swish, swish.”
The last of Brian Little’s four children headed off to university this year so Little put the family’s island home up for sale. He can see eight turbines from his back deck and hasn’t had an offer in the six months he’s tried to sell. He’s also close to a substation where all the turbine electricity is collected. “Prior to the Green Energy Act, you couldn’t build a substation within 1,100 metres of a residence or school. “In our case, the substation is 400 metres from our house and 700 metres from an elementary school,” he said.
“I still don’t like the look of the turbines. I don’t like to hear the turbines. It frustrates me that they don’t do anything. We have more than enough electricity in the province.”
Little has a point. Other sources of energy can provide enough power in the province. As it stands, Ontario sells excess power at a loss to U.S. states and Ontario has the most expensive electricity in North America.
Looking at one weekend in July, Ontario’s wind power projects produced 1.3 per cent of Ontario’s demand for energy and there were 2,515 turbines operating in Ontario as of December, the vast majority in Western Ontario, said Parker Gallant, a green energy critic who writes an energy sector blog. He estimated that wind power costs Ontario taxpayers a net loss of $1.9 billion per year.