rural residents continue fighting against close proximity wind turbines
SCOTSBURN – A constant noise, flashing lights all hours of the night. This was not even close to the serene peace and quiet that the residents had grown to call their home after many years on the dirt road outside of Scotsburn. For several years now the residents of Tower Road have been fighting in just about any way they can think of to prevent the continuation of windmills being built next to their homes.
“They sound like a little Cessna,” said Malcolm MacInnis, who lives the closest to all six windmills. “You just put up with it.”
MacInnis has what many might consider a million dollar view from his hilltop home that overlooks much of the surrounding county. His peaceful retreat is not quite what it once was though. Standing at MacInnis’s door you can see two massive windmills not far from his home, and now three smaller ones across his driveway, so the home is quite literally surrounded by the structures.
“I didn’t really know much about them at the time,” said MacInnis about the wind towers when they were first set to be put up around his property. “I was working out west and I came over the hill and saw this great big thing behind the house.”
As with the other residents of the road, MacInnis said that he was told the noise of the machines would be no louder than that of crickets chirping. It only took a windy day for it to be apparent that this was not the case. MacInnis said that the smaller windmills, just erected this year, sound like small single-engine planes like a Cessna and the bigger windmills, especially downwind on a blustery day, can sound like a jet engine. A noise that doesn’t necessarily start and stop but can be constant for however long the wind lasts on the top of the rural hill.
“Its really impacted people’s quality of life and property value and community members have not benefitted from it”
– Emma Larson-Ure
On top of the constant noise in the background, in the evening MacInnis deals with the flashing lights on the top of the windmills lighting up entire rooms and his whole yard, flashing rhythmically all night, a light show he never asked for.
The light and noise are not the only issues that he has had with the towers either. One winter day a few years ago one of the towers caught fire, sending black ash and pieces of fiberglass from the flaming tower, downwind, to his property. He added that had it not been wintertime the fire could have easily started a forest fire or caught his house on fire.
MacInnis is not the only one on Tower road affected or upset about the windmills though. Every member of Tower road predates the six structures, all of which they were opposed to.
Another resident just down the road deals with a strobing effect for about a half hour each night as the sun sets on the other side of the largest turbine in the area. As the arms of the turbine turn it causes light flickers in his home, causing him dizziness and other effects from dealing with what would be similar to a strobe light coming through his windows.
“This has been a family home for many years,” said Emma Larson-Ure as she sat on the back deck of her parents’ property. She has been living here full time for a year now and even thought about buying the property from her parents, however, she is not sure that is something she wants now.
“Its really impacted people’s quality of life and property value and community members have not benefitted from it,” she said. The second house from the top of the hill, not far from MacInnis, even from the tree-shrouded yard and home you can hear a whoosh whoosh from the deck.
She added that the windmills and the fight to prevent more of them going up have changed the feel of the small community of six homes on the road. At the end of just about every driveway as you drive up the road signs with windmills crossed out, indicate they are not welcome.
“I think a lot of people up here support wind turbines because we’re all nature lovers, but it was the way that they did it,” said Larson-Ure referring to county council who have had to approve the windmills being erected each time one was put in place. ” It’s pretty obvious to me that it’s an old boys club and they’re not considering the best interests of the community.”
The last three turbines put up were built and began running just this year after the residents had another battle with council to have bylaws changed to allow for more space between their homes and the turbines. According to Larson-Ure these turbines seem to be louder and have a more mechanical sound than the larger ones, making the noises more noticeable in the once quiet rural area. The last three turbines that were built are considered domestic turbines under the County of Pictou bylaws. However, they are not being used to power anyone’s property, according to residents.
“They’re not domestic because you don’t need three of those to power that little house that (the owner) has, it’s going right into the power line,” said Larson-Ure.
The residents of tower road had asked council to create a new class of wind turbine for this specific use, a small wind class that would give it the same setbacks as utility although it was smaller because it was being used for utility purposes and not personal such as the domestic classification suggests.
After the ask was made to council the Development Officer for the County, Jeffery Turnbull completed a report on whether or not this should be considered for the county. In the end, the report deemed it not necessary to make any changes to the current bylaws which had been amended already to allow for a 1,000-meter set back rather than a 600-meter setback.
“Staff is stating that an adequate balance was achieved with the initial planning policy and provisions regarding wind turbines and the amendments of 2014 further entrench this balance. In the absence of any sound, evidence-based research literature to guide and support any recommendations, further amendments cannot be justified,” said the report signed by Turnbull and reviewed and passed by council.
Since this time the residents of Tower road have filed for an appeal with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) to have the decision made in the report and the decision to uphold the report by council appealed. Currently, the residents are waiting on word of whether or not their appeal will be heard.
“It’s just sort of endless,” Larson-Ure lamented.
The NSUARB over the last 20 years has heard a number of wind turbine related grievances from residences of areas all over the province seeking the appeal of turbine construction approval permits and more, virtually all of these were passed in the favour of those putting the turbines up rather than the communities, citing not enough information of disturbances were able to be found.
“Each time they come back with a concern they’re too late,” said councillor for the area, Wayne Murray referring to the fact that the group have only acted after development permits have been issued or been able to make change post approval of construction. He added that the reason council did not approve changes to the bylaw which resulted in the last three turbines going up is because they trusted the opinion of Turnbull and staff who had researched the matter and compiled it in a report.
Murray has been working with residents to have their concerns heard at council and both parties have been keeping each other updated as to what they have been up to. More recently, Murray read a statement from the residents of Tower road to council at the October 2 regular council meeting.
During the statement reading, he read what residents had to say, starting with the phrase “living nightmare” to describe their situation. The residents stated that they feel it is unfair that they now have to appeal the situation and that committee did not really deal with the request properly. Council members then shared their thoughts on the situation, seemingly for the most part agreeing that what was happening was not a good situation.
“Every time they come to our committee it is too late. They’re always a step behind. Especially those first two that were put up there that should have never of taken place. I just hope that there are no more windmills coming to Pictou County.,” said Councilor Randy Palmer about the situation. Councilor Deborah Wadden requested to see by how much property values have gone down in the area.
“We have basically destroyed that community, not we but the windmills have,” said Councilor David Parker talking about the situation. At the end of the discussion, it was decided that council would take a trip out to Tower Road to see the windmills first hand in the near future, something most of council had not done before approving any of the developments.
“These residential turbines could go up anywhere,” said Larson-Ure, “It’s not because it’s in our backyard, it could happen to anyone else.”
Malcolm MacInnis Stands on his balcony with two of the three newest wind turbines visible behind him.(Brimicombe photo)