Monday, 28 November 2011

Why does (only part of) the CBC hate wind? Conclusion

It's time to wrap up this series with some overall conclusions.  But first, here's a reminder of how this series started.  From September 21 to October 1, Dave Seglins and John Nicol authored the following stories (followed by two on-line polls):

2011 September 21: Wind farm health risks claimed in $1.5 M suit 
2011 September 22: Should there be stricter limits on wind turbines in rural areas? (online poll)
2011 September 22: Ont. wind farm health risks downplayed: documents
2011 October 1: Ontario wind power bringing down property values
2011 October 1: Would you live near wind turbines? (online poll)
2011 October 4: Ontario wind power faces test over property values

To the best of my knowledge, Seglins and Nicol have not covered the wind issue since the election.

Inquiring minds want to know .....

So, why did these reporters cover the story the way they did?  If I was the CBC Ombudsman, I'd ask these questions:

1. How did the story come to you?  

Based on how the stories were written, the interviewees and underlying evidence seemed to have been somewhat pre-packaged.  In other words, the tipster probably sat down with the reporters and laid out their case, offering documents and recommended interviews.

What is unknown is whether the tip came in "over-the-transom" or whether it was introduced by someone the reporters knew.  Beth Harrington is the Communications Director of Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) and is, or was, also on the Board of the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County.  She was also a CBC reporter in the 1990's when Seglins was starting his career.  Did Beth Harrington have any influence in introducing the tipster?

2. Why did you print the stories when you did?  

This story cycle seemed to have a well defined beginning and end, and the cycle appeared to synchronize with the Ontario provincial election on October 6.  It also appears that there was a concerted effort to get the story published during the campaign since it was packed into a time frame of less than month leading up to the election.

Some of the documentary evidence was a few months old and had already been published on a WCO website.  

Then, following the election, there was no follow-up reporting on the issues.

3.  Do you have any views on wind turbines that might have entered the story?  

I have absolutely no evidence that this might be the case and I don't believe that either reporter makes a habit of reporting on wind issues.  However, I'm continually amazed that when you dig below the outer skin of a wind story you find someone with a cottage or farm near a proposed wind farm.  I have well over a dozen examples, but that's a blog entry for a different day   So, if I was the ombudsman, I'd ask "Do you or your family have a residence near a proposed wind farm?"

4. Why didn't you dig deeper, cover both sides better?

I haven't analysed the number of words for and against wind in these stories, but they are decidedly anti-wind.  There were the typical calls to the usual suspects (CanWEA, Ministry of the Environment, developers' PR departments) but there could have been so much more.  It's easy enough to find a host landowner.  Pick a turbine and look around.

CBC isn't all that bad
I don't want to leave the impression that I believe that all of CBC is bad.  I listen to and watch CBC most of the time.  I've even donated to groups fighting to keep it alive.  And there are other areas of CBC that have been very pro-wind over the years:

Bob McDonald, host of Quirks and Quarks, first Canadian to be included in Sigma Xi, the most prestigious research society in the US and Officer of the Order of Canada, said this about wind turbines:

The point is this. We Canadians are among the worst energy hogs and highest emitters
of greenhouse gasses on the planet. When a clean alternative comes along, arguing
against it because it looks ugly is like standing on the tilted deck of the Titanic,
complaining about the colour of the lifeboats. Let’s get on with it.

George Stroumboulopoulos, while host of The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, provided leadership for One Million Acts of Green and celebrated the wind farm in the Ontario Highlands that is now featured in the Seglins/Nicols critique.

David Suzuki, founder of Quirks and Quarks, host of The Nature of Things, ...   Enough said.

However, for some reason Seglins and Nicol missed the boat on this one.

They're not the only media outlet to do the same.  The National Post is not only anti-wind but also proud climate change deniers.  The QMI Agency and the Sun Media network regularly write slanted coverage.  These, however, appear to be errors of commission.  

Then there are the other media channels that get caught up in the controversy and don't do a thorough job - the errors of omission.  I'll put these two reporters in that camp.

Root causes
So, what's the root cause of these errors?  Let's put aside the egregious errors of commission.  They arise from blind ideology, ignorance, denial and even outright support from wind's natural enemies - coal and nuclear power. 

Lets focus on the sources of the errors of omission.  They're harder to discern.

First, the media can be susceptible to tipsters who bring them their stories.  In this case, it was an easy story.  The documents had been mined by someone under a Freedom of Information request, posted on a website and then pointed out to the reporters.  It was probably backed up by a schedule to introduce reporters to real-life "victims".  Easy sound clips and web postings.

Second, wind is a topical issue.  For some reason, some people become quite polarized about wind turbines, especially when the turbines approach within a few kilometres of their bucolic life style .  Even though poll after poll reveals that over 70% of people support wind installations, even in their community, a reporter can always be guaranteed of a good response if they bring up the wind issue.  Talk radio thrives on it as do regional newspapers with their Letters to the Editor.  Editors, publishers and advertisers love it.  One local newspaper even dedicated an entire section to the issue after trolling for advertisers.

Third, is the fact that reporters have less resources than previously to truly investigate an issue and maybe even less motivation to do so.  I don't have much insight into the life of a reporter but those  that I've met are concerned about their ability to truly investigate a story.  Maybe it's a consequence of the internet stealing ad revenue from the traditional media.

Finally, is the question of consequences.  These reporters published a successful story if you measure it by the the numbers of comments - well over a thousand.  It was also successful for the tipster based on the results of the on-line poll results.  It may also have successful for the anti-wind candidates in the election.  They almost won the election.  

Now then, what are the consequences for the tipsters, reporters and candidates when the truth from this series of blogs is revealed?  Up until now, absolutely nothing.

For, as Winston Churchill once said:

" A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

So, how do we change that?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Dr. David Colby - Turbines and health

IPPSO FACTO (Magazine of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario)
November 2011, Volume 25, Number 5

Turbines and health
By Dr. W. David Colby

When I became the acting medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent, little did I
know that I would be swept headlong into controversy about harnessing the wind
right here in our backyard. Three years ago, I was asked to help make sense of the
conflicting information the local council was receiving about the effects of wind
turbines on human health.

I researched the topic extensively and found no scientifically credible evidence
that wind turbines eroded human health. I was then asked to produce a more
extensive report that was issued by the Chatham-Kent Health Unit. Since then I
have been asked to speak on a number of occasions about wind turbines and health,
and I have collaborated on an international panel review on the topic with some
of the biggest names in audiology and occupational health.

It is admittedly a complicated topic that has been made more complicated by
the huge amount of misinformation that has been circulated. Wind turbines do not
produce unique sounds in terms of intensity or characteristics. The sound intensity
is virtually the same as what is found in normal urban environments. There is also
no convincing scientific evidence of an epidemiologic link between wind turbine
sound exposure and health problems.  However, a very small number of
people believe otherwise; they've attributed illnesses of all kinds to wind
turbines. There is no doubt that some people find the low level swishswish
sound of wind turbines annoying. And these people claim that annoyance itself
is a health effect, since annoyance can lead to stress and too much stress is
bad. However, by such criteria, living anywhere in a town or city is a threat to

Wind power opponents continue to make claims about sickness caused by turbines,
which they call "industrial" wind turbines, as that sounds more threatening.
However, 10 reviews, including reviews by Ontario's chief medical health officer, the
Australian government, the Sierra Club and McMaster University have confirmed
that there is no evidence of direct adverse health effects from wind turbines when
sited to comply with Ontario's noise regulations.  Furthermore, all the power generation
alternatives except solar energy are clearly worse than wind turbines in terms
of health and environmenral effects. That's especially true of coal-fired generating stations.  According to a study prepared for the Ontario government, coal plants cause
nearly 250 deaths and more than 120,000 illnesses (such as asthma attacks) each year
in the province.

So while I am sympathetic to concerns raised by local residents and agree
that any projects must be sited in a way that minimizes impact on local residents,
when it comes to energy choices for healthy communities, I am confident that
we shouldn't be tilting at windmills.

Dr. W David Colby is acting medical
officer of health in Chatham-Kent, and associate
professor at the University of Western Ontario's
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Why does (part of) CBC hate wind? Part 3a

Would you live near wind turbines?
CBC News
October 1, 2011

Suppose you were asked that question?

Now suppose that question was preceded with the following:

Wind turbines are shooting down property values some Ontario homeowners are complaining. 

A CBC News investigation has found that the expansion of wind power projects is creating a backlash in rural communities where property owners say they're unable to sell their homes. 

Despite assurances from the government and industry experts that there are no health impacts from turbines, a fear of the effects is keeping people away. 

Stephana Johnston lives near several turbines and has found it nearly impossible to sell her home. 

"My hunch is that people look at them and say: 'As nice as the property is going south, looking at the lake, we don't want to be surrounded by those turbines.' Can't say that I blame them," she says.

The results were 68% against living near a turbine, based on over 3000 votes.  What do you bet that a number of people then said, blogged or wrote, "A CBC poll of over 3000 people shows that 68% of those polled would not want to live near a turbine".  

All of this less than a week before the Ontario election.

Why does (part of) CBC hate wind? Part 3

Ontario wind power bringing down property values
CBC News
September 30, 2011
John Nicol and Dave Seglins

For the complete article, click here.

OK, this one is going to take some time to correct, because there are so many areas where the reporters have just trusted their tipster.  Let's take it apart, error by error:

The CBC has documented scores of families who've discovered their property values are not only going downward, but also some who are unable to sell and have even abandoned their homes because of concerns nearby turbines are affecting their health.
"Score" means twenty.  "Scores" would therefore mean more than twenty, implying 40, 60, 80 or more.  MPAC, the agency charged with establishing facts-based appraisals for municipalities says that only about twenty (i.e. one score) properties have sold in close proximity to wind farms.  And they're saying that there is no discernible effect of turbines on property values.  A post-graduate thesis at the University of Guelph proved the same point (ironically, it was partially funded by an anti-wind activist).  Professional appraisals were performed in Chatham-Kent, Melancthon and the Wolfe Island area and yielded similar results.  I'm willing to hypothesize that recent hysteria may have changed things somewhat, but where's the new data that the CBC claim?

Next, CBC turns to a number of anecdotal cases, all from two areas (Clear Creek and Melancthon), and all from the anti-wind movement.  Now then, to be fair, if one believed that turbines could cause a drop in value, it makes sense that they might also be anti-wind.

Stephana Johnston, Clear Creek

Ms. Johnston has been an anti-wind activist certainly since 2009.  She's on the Board of Directors of Wind Concerns Ontario and has posted on their blog almost forty times (that's two score).  She's been very vocal in claiming that wind turbines have caused her adverse health effects, as quoted in the CBC article:

Johnston says she has suffered so many ill health effects, including an inability to sleep — which she believes stem from the noise and vibration of the turbines— that she now sleeps on a couch in her son's trailer, 12 kilometres away, and only returns to her house to eat breakfast and dinner and use the internet.
Of course, statements like that don't help with her property values, as noted by one of comments attached to the article:

Also, Stephana Johnston, 81 has now guaranteed no one will buy her house as she's publicly stated that the turbines make it impossible to sleep there.

Kay Armstrong, Clear Creek
Ms Armstrong has also been an anti-wind activist since 2009.  She may be best known for her public letter where she asks:

"Why is AIM Power Generation reaping in these profits while I am approaching bankruptcy" (Woodstock Sentinal Review, July 31, 2009)
The public disclosure of her belief that wind turbines have caused her symptoms may also have created a self-fulfilling prophecy:

"I had to get out," said Armstrong. "It was getting so, so bad. And I had to disclose the health issues I had. I was told by two prominent lawyers that I would be sued if the ensuing purchasers were to develop health problems."
Tracy Whitmore, Clear Creek
Ms. Whitmore is another one the neighbours joining forces with Ms. Johnston and Ms. Armstrong.  Here's an account of their history from the Delhi News-Record:
Initially, Johnston and several residents objected to the massive wind turbine project due to its potential impact on migratory birds. They formed an advocacy group, first unsuccessfully appearing before Norfolk council and later unsuccessfully appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board in 2005.
Slowly, the 18 industrial wind turbines came onboard in sets. However, the adverse health reactions didn’t start to be unleashed until the final Clear Creek set came online, Johnston said. She remembers the exact date — Nov. 22, 2008.
“That’s when the effect — the full effect of all 18 — affected us,” she said.
Over time, neighbours began to compare symptoms and eventually met at Johnston’s house. Some of these residents have now gone on to form the Norfolk Victims of Industrial Wind Turbines, chronicling their health issues and advocating for relief.
Since then, the three rented an apartment in Delhi for awhile, ostensibly as an overnight retreat.

CBC then proceeds to quote two real estate brokers, Ron VandenBussche and Chris Luxemburger.   Vandenbussche, headquartered in Simcoe, has no listings within 20 or 30km of Clear Creek.  Luxemburger, headquartered in Orangeville, has a few listings in the Melancthon area.  Neither one is an accredited appraiser with the Appraisal Institute of Canada.  Luxemburger is quoted as saying:
"Homes inside the windmill zones were selling for less and taking longer to sell than the homes outside the windmill zones," said Luxemburger.
On average, from 2007 to 2010, he says properties adjacent to turbines sold for between 20 and 40 per cent less than comparable properties that were out of sight from the windmills.
Luxemburger is also an active aviation enthusiast and pilot.  He has presented this real estate valuation argument, along with his views on aviation safety, to municipal councils as the basis for his opposition to wind turbines.  

Two separate real estate appraisals, both by accredited appraisers, reached the conclusion that there was no association between property values and turbines in roughly the same timeframe.  The University of Guelph study mentioned earlier reached the same conclusions.

The difference between the opinions of Luxemburger and the analysis of the appraisers probably stems from the fact that, in the former, the properties that were "out of sight from the windmills" were also 30km closer to Orangeville, and were increasingly attractive as commuting residences.

Next, CBC drags out the six properties that we looked at in Part 2.  Except, they only look at four of them.  As we pointed out earlier, the purchase of two of these homes was based on "good neighbour" policies and the others were based on optimizing the layout of the wind farm.  Not surprisingly, the first two properties were paid a premium over market.  The others sold much closer to market.  However, the market does move over time and so when a property was purchased before the financial collapse in the fall of 2008 and then sold after the collapse, bad things happen.  So, CHD could be accused of buying high and selling low, but they used the residences for their employees and contractors during that time frame rather than picking the perfect time to sell.
Understandably, CHD required buyers to acknowledge that they knew the full circumstances surrounding the sale and wouldn't try to "do well", as CBC described the first sale.

As one commentator to the article asked:

I would like to know how the people who bought these properties at a reduced price are making out? Why not ask them for a follow up story?
Good question.  Why not also talk to the hundreds of people who live in the area and sleep very well at night.


Finally, CBC quotes an Environmental Ministry lawyer, Frederika Rotter:

"We will see in the course of this hearing that lots of people are worried about windmills. They may not like the noise, they may think the noise makes them sick, but really what makes them sick is just the windmills being on the land because it does impact their property values.
"That's what makes them sick is that, you know, they'll get less money for their properties, and that's what's causing all this annoyance and frustration and all of that."
In my opinion, she should have said that some people perceive that turbines will cause a drop in value.  She's living proof that the perception has now become widely held, even though it hasn't been historically true.  

And of course, once people believe that turbines affect property values - they will.  

More on this in Part 4.

Why does (part of) CBC hate wind? Part 4

Ontario wind power faces test over property values
CBC News
October 4, 2011
Dave Seglins and John Nicol

For the article, click here.

Actually, CBC covered this issue pretty fairly.  

CBC's article begins with the case of the Kenneys who are appealing the tax assessment on their Wolfe Island property, arguing that the wind turbines on the island have devalued their property value.

The article then includes evidence from both sides of the argument.  It also points out that the only case of a successful appeal of property near a wind facility was for a transformer, not a wind turbine.

The nearest wind turbine was over 4 km. away.  The transformers were tested every quarter for a year or so and found to be in compliance.  However, the Assessment Review Board granted the reduction because nobody from the municipality, developer or MPAC really showed up to defend the case properly.  The testimony hinged on evidence that the transformer could be heard via a telephone conversation!  Haven't you heard a hum on your telephone just from your house wiring?  However, I don't fault CBC too much for missing that information.  It would have required quite a bit of digging.

What was missing in the CBC coverage was an opportunity to dig a little deeper in a couple of areas.

Property value increases

CBC rightfully mention that property values increase for the properties that have turbines on them.  That's because the turbine brings a very predictable, long term cash flow to the property.  That cash flow acts just like a bond.  There have been a number of cases where these properties have changed hands and the premium easily exceeded $100, 000 per turbine.

What CBC missed was the implication of distributing some of the royalty money to neighbours.  This especially makes sense with the larger turbines, where the placement of the turbine turns into a lottery for the landowners.  Under the current scheme, one landowner wins big and the others get to look at the turbine and the landowner's new truck as he drives off for his winter vacation (that image is actually not so far off reality).

A modest increase in the royalty for a turbine and a broader sharing of the royalty would go a long way to building better relations between neighbours.  The royalty stream received by the neighbour would also mitigate any potential property devaluation.  In the early years of the lease, it might even increase the value since there would be a longer stream of cash flow.  

There have been a few experiments with this concept.  South Australia requires some form of agreement with a neighbour if they live within 1 km of the turbine (SA is pretty sparsely populated so it wouldn't mean quite as much as in Ontario).  Denmark has a more cumbersome approach that requires an independent property value assessment followed by one time compensation to a neighbouring landowner.  Wisconsin considered legislation that would have compensated landowners within 0.5 mile of a turbine, but that initiative is now in limbo.  Lee County, Illinois is looking at a hybrid of these ideas.

Ontario is currently reviewing its Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program.  CBC missed a terrific opportunity to raise the issue in their coverage.

Who's to blame?

Secondly, CBC didn't explore the question, "What if there is a property devaluation?  Who caused it?"

To answer that question, they'd have to go back over five years and take a look at property values surrounding early wind farms.  This analysis was done for Melancthon, Wolfe Island and a number of other projects by independent appraisers and one graduate thesis from the University of Guelph.  They found that there was no discernible property devaluation caused by the proximity to wind turbines.

That analysis probably holds true today, largely because there have not been a lot of transactions near wind farms.  However, anecdotal interviews with real estate agents suggest that the buying public is concerned about buying near wind farms.

How did that concern arise?  It would have been useful for the CBC to review its own coverage of the wind "issue" over the last five years.  It would have found sensational headlines backed up by emotional interviews with a few anti-wind activists and then a nod to a CanWEA or wind developer spokesperson.  CBC isn't alone, of course.  The same story has been played out in other television networks, local radio station, national and local newspapers and internet blogs.

It would have been useful for the CBC to interview a few property buyers who walked away from a potential bid and ask them this sequence of questions (with anticipated answers):

Why did you pass on buying?  Well, we were worried about noise and long term property values.

How did you form those opinions?  We watched TV, listened to the radio and read about these issues in the newspapers and magazines.

Do you know anyone who has lived near turbiines?  Well, no...

Then, CBC could go the those news outlets and ask them about their sources (or just analyse what CBC had reported).  They would have found a consistent group of anti-wind activists effectively pushing their agenda.  Just like what was shown earlier in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this blog sequence.

So, what would be the root cause of the property devaluation?  As is typically the case: rumour, fear and the madness of crowds.  In this case, amplified by the Press looking for an easy headline.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Telegraph gets it wrong again

The Telegraph recently published an editorial titled "The Duke of Edinburgh sees clearly over wind turbines".  Click here for the article.

The Telegraph is staunchly Conservative and has been pro-nuclear, anti-wind for quite awhile.  Even this editorial is internally inconsistent or downright deceptive.

Let's break it down, paragraph by paragraph.

The problems are legion. The turbines are hugely expensive to build and to operate, and are not a reliable source of power. The figures on their electricity-producing “capacity” are thoroughly misleading, since they are based on what the turbine would produce if the wind blew constantly at the optimum speed. 

Turbines are now at parity, or less expensive, than all other forms of electrical generation (source: US DOE).  All forms of generation are based on their peak power output, not their annual energy output.  While nuclear has the highest capacity factor, any generator that isn't being used for base load generation (e.g. gas, hydro and coal) have capacity factors similar to wind.  More fundamentally, though, capacity factor is a fairly irrelevant economic ratio.  What really counts is ¢/kWh.  As an analogy, the capacity factor of a grain harvesting combine is probably less than 5%.  What's more relevant is harvesting costs per bushel compared to any alternative.

But, of course, the wind on which the turbines depend does not blow constantly – and when, as often happens during some of the coldest spells in winter, it does not blow at all, the turbines generate zero power. When the wind blows too hard, they also have to shut down – and there is no financially practicable way of storing the electricity they produce when the wind blows at the optimal rate. So in order for the country not to run out of electricity on a regular basis, wind power has to be supplemented by gas-fired power stations, whose operation pushes more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In truth, the wind blows most strongly during the heating months.  The wind probably blows over 95% of the time during the winter.  Turbines are very seldom curtailed by excessive winds - less than 1% of the time.  It's true that electricity can not be stored but it's also true that nuclear plants can not easily be throttled down.  Nuclear power and renewable power (other than hydro plants with abundant storage) have the same problem - they can't be dispatched.  This is the new reality of running a power system under carbon constraints.  You can't just burn your way out of a problem - you really need to think through how the system needs to reduce carbon emissions at minimum cost.  It's now a two variable optimization exercise.

Many pro-nuclear or pro-fossil fuel advocates claim that renewable energy - wind in particular - requires gas backup.  Of course, most jurisdictions have access to hydro power, or they could if they built more connecting transmission.  Ignoring that fact, critics would lead you to believe that each wind turbine needs to be backed up by a dedicated gas turbine that needs to operate continually at sub-optimal conditions.  Of course, the independent system operator (they exist in all power systems, just like stock exchanges) has the ability to schedule one gas turbine to back up the variability of hundreds or thousands of wind turbines.  Numerous studies have been performed on this issue and the answer is that wind power backs off more than 95% of equivalent fossil fuel emissions (source: IEEE).

The facts about wind power are obvious, and have been frequently pointed out in this newspaper, not least by our columnist Christopher Booker. Yet the Government’s energy policy is based on denying them. 

Christopher Booker has the dubious honour of having an award named after him.  The award was created by George Monbiot, famous for his book "Heat" that raised the awareness of climate change.  Check out this article that detailed all the crap that Booker has published as a climate change denier.

Even if we were to build 10,000 wind turbines between now and then, they would come nowhere near meeting a third of our electricity needs – indeed, during the coldest winter months, when demand is highest, they would supply only about one tenth of the demand. Yet the cost will nevertheless be met by every household in the country. Electricity generated by wind is vastly more expensive than that generated by gas-fired power stations. And yet the Government is determined to press on with its hopeless strategy.

Apparently, it's quite feasible to build thousands of wind turbines by 2020.  Based on recent experience, though, it's not feasible to build a green-field nuclear plant in less than ten years.  Wind powered electricity, as proven by the US DOE, is not more expensive than gas.  But if the editorial is pushing nuclear, why wouldn't they contrast wind and nuclear.  That's because nuclear is dramatically higher cost than wind and intrinsically more dangerous (see Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima).

which means that until there is a fresh technological breakthrough, nuclear power remains the best, if not the only, option for producing large amounts of electricity reliably without also adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Whenever, I had a weak argument in an essay, I'd close with a flat out assertion.  It never worked.  One professor scribbled, "yeah, and then magic happened".  

Well, even magic and an out-of-touch, irrelevant (at least when it comes to modern electrical systems) Royal won't save the Telegraph's assertions.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Better forecasts put more wind on grid

Minneapolis Star Tribune
November 11, 2011

Using new weather-forecasting technology, Xcel Energy says it has vastly improved its ability to predict when wind turbines will run and boosted how much electricity they send to the power grid.

The new capability saved $6 million last year by allowing the utility to avoid running fossil-fuel power plants when it could rely on wind power instead, according to the Minneapolis-based utility.


In Colorado, after two new wind farms were added, Xcel said it recently generated more than 50 percent of its nighttime load from wind on eight occasions. In its Minnesota region, the utility said it recently hit a 37 percent wind power share at night.
"Five years ago I never would never have anticipated that, but it is a new reality and one that is exciting. We're glad that we're on the leading edge of this," said Welch, who attributed those milestones partly to better forecasting.
Michael Goggin , manager of transmission policy for the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, said Texas wind farms have contributed more than 25 percent of nighttime power, and utilities in Spain and Ireland have gotten 50 percent of off-peak electricity from wind.
For the full article, click here.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Why does (part of) the CBC hate wind? Part 2

Over the last month or so, especially before the provincial election, CBC News has taken quite a lopsided view of wind energy.  This blog entry continues to review CBC's coverage, highlight the deficiencies in their reporting and question why this could have occurred.


2011 September 21: Wind farm health risks claimed in $1.5 M suit 
2011 September 22: Should there be stricter limits on wind turbines in rural areas? (online poll)
2011 September 22: Ont. wind farm health risks downplayed: documents
2011 October 1: Ontario wind power bringing down property values
2011 October 1: Would you live near wind turbines? (online poll)
2011 October 4: Ontario wind power faces test over property values
2011 October 10: Wind project threatens birds, green group warns

All but one of these article were written by
 Dave Seglins and John Nicol

Let's continue with the article Ont. wind farm health risks downplayed: documents and the subsequent online poll Should there be stricter limits on wind turbines in rural areas?

Here's the article's opening paragraph:

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment is logging hundreds of health complaints over the province's 900 wind turbines but has downplayed the problem, according to internal ministry documents obtained by CBC News.

Sounds like the CBC really worked hard and unearthed a big scoop.  In reality, those documents were obtained by  Wind Concerns Ontario via a Freedom of Information request.  Some of them were then dribbled out on a WCO website called "windyleaks".  The website was launched on August 19th, 2011 and was very active leading up to the election.  It's last post was on October 4th with nothing being posted after the election.

Windyleaks had over 15 posts before the CBC story broke.  The windyleaks reaction chided CBC for being slow on the uptake. Here's their post on the day after CBC published.

Visit this link to CBC and read a great summary of WINDYLEAKS’ POSTS from the past 3 – 4 weeks!
Now that they have caught up, we only hope CBC (and their counterparts at CTV, GLOBAL, the Star, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, the Sun and others) will continue to investigate and expose the real truth about Industrial Wind and it’s legacy of shame in Ontario!!!
As to the headline that there were hundreds of health complaints, one only has to delve into one of the CBC's accompanying documents to learn the truth  They reveal that over a three year period starting in 2006 there were 231 complaints regarding a transformer associated with the connection of the wind farm to the Hydro One network (the "grid").  That transformer is over 4km from any turbine.  
There were three complaints about turbines in phase I in 2006 and 2007 and none thereafter.  There were 24 complaints about turbines in phase II in less than a year, presumably from Ms. Ashbee.

So, perhaps the headline should have read, "Ontario's Ministry of Environment logged about thirty complaints at a wind farm three to five years ago.  Their investigation led to the developer taking the corrective action of purchasing the home of the most sensitive landowner."
The article continues:

Their home was bought out by Canadian Hydro Developers (now Transalta) in June 2009, one of six homeowners who sold their houses to the utility company.
"We were silent. I wouldn't say boo to anybody. But the longer this goes on, nobody's doing anything! And now we have an (Ontario) election two weeks away. Nobody understands what's going on out here."

Each seller had to sign confidentiality agreements. But the Lormands have risked legal repercussions by breaking their silence and speaking exclusively to CBC News this week. They said they want to warn the public about what they claim are the dangers of living near wind turbines and the supposed breakdowns in government monitoring.
Canadian Hydro Developers (CHD) did purchase the Ashbee/Lormand home.  They also purchased Helen Fraser's home. 

Based on news publications at the time, we can only assume that CHD was pursuing a "good neighbour" policy by avoiding any acrimony.  The other four homes were purchased in order for CHD to optimize their wind farm layout.  In all cases, there was a willing seller and a willing buyer.  The specifics of the deal were covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), a common legal practise in such matters.  It would have bound CHD to not disclose what medical conditions  the Lormands and the Frasers may have revealed and it would have bound the Lormands and the Frasers to not disclose the commercial arrangements.

Two of the six homes were demolished.  One had already been under a County demolition order and the other was a hunting shack.  The other four were initially rented to CHD or contractor employees and then subsequently sold at non-distressed prices when the projects were complete.

Barbara Ashbee certainly hasn't been deterred by the NDA.  Although she says that she wouldn't say boo,  a simple google search for "barbara ashbee" yields 2000 hits within Canada.  That's a lot of boo's.  She has become a major activist within Wind Concerns Ontario.   As to risking legal repercussions, nothing of that nature has hit the Press.  You can be sure that if it had, the CBC would have been called again.

The CBC report interviewed one landowner, the Ashbee/Lormonds.  Ashbee claims that there are several people near turbines who won't speak for fear of losing property value.  CBC printed that claim but apparently didn't talk to any of the landowners in the area.  At the very least, they could have talked to those families who have turbines on their property - usually closer to their homes than their neighbours.  Even after accounting for "absentee" landowners and landowners with multiple turbines, the number of host landowners who sleep very well at night numbers in the hundreds.

Let's say that you were presented with the following poll question:

Would you live near a wind farm? Why or why not? Should there be stricter limits on wind turbines in rural areas? Share your comments below.

Now, let's say that the following material preceded the poll question:

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment has downplayed hundreds of health complaints over wind turbines, according to internal ministry documents obtained by CBC News.

The wind turbines, in the Amaranth area northwest of Toronto, were the subject of more than 200 complaints dating back to 2006.

For one local couple, the turbines' loud swooshing noise and persistent vibrations kept them awake for nights on end.

Although the couple were initially told theirs was the only complaint in the area, internal documents now suggest the government was aware of and working to control the turbines' noise pollution.

Ryerson University professor and acoustics specialists Ramani Ramakrishnan has already recommended to the MOE that wind turbines in rural areas should have far stricter limits, but added that if the province enforced the regulations, it would have a major impact on wind farms in the province.

That's how CBC rigged the poll.

Part 3 in this series will address CBC's coverage of the "property value" issue.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Michaud v Suncor

This is a repost from Diane Saxe's excellent, award-winning, blog.  
Michaud v Suncor
November 03, 2011
Diane Saxe
Michaud v. Sun Corp. is a civil action that has been commenced in the Ontario Superior Court by a neighbour of the Kent Breeze Wind Farm. Unlike the Hanna and Erickson cases, which unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the permitting of wind projects, the Michaud case seeks damages and an injunction now that the wind farm has been built.
The Michauds live approximately 1.1 kilometers from Kent Breeze, more than twice as far as the 500 metre setback mandated by the Province under theGreen Energy Act. They are suing for millions of dollars in damages based on the traditional environmental causes of action: nuisance, negligence, trespass, and Rylands v. Fletcher. The Rylands and trespass claims are hard to reconcile with Smith v. Inco and it will likely be hard to win on negligence if the farm was built in accordance with provincial permits. Accordingly, the case is likely to come down to the question of nuisance, that is whether the operation of the wind farm creates an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of neighbouring properties, even in the absence of negligence.
Several years ago, when the Ontario Legislature was debating the adoption of the Green Energy Act, several stakeholders pleaded with them to bar nuisance claims for non-negligent operation of renewable energy projects that the Province itself had approved. Similar nuisance bars have been adopted across the country to bar nuisance claims associated with water and sewage infrastructure, although private lawsuits are permitted for negligence.
It seems poor social policy to invite renewable energy entrepreneurs to build approved projects in Ontario, only to subject them to the expense and risk of a civil lawsuit for nuisance afterwards. An integrated approval process, like the renewable energy project approval process, ought to weigh competing interests and make reliable decisions about what should be built where.  If compensation is appropriate for some neighbours, why not have clear, uniform rules for who gets it, from where and how much?
Unfortunately, the government of the day chose not to deal with the issue. Now the courts will come up with patchwork answers.