Over 80 people jammed the M.D. of Smoky River council chambers June 14 to make it clear to council they wanted an amendment to a proposed wind project in the northeast corner of the M.D.
After the delegation left, Reeve Robert Brochu said it was the “biggest delegation we ever had” since he was on council.
“This shows it’s a major concern in our area,” he added.
Officially, 64 signed a delegation sheet at the M.D. office but many more attended the meeting.
Dorine Dentinger first spoke as a member of the Smoky River Wind Concerns Group. She made it clear to council the group did not want to shut down the project, but amend the current bylaw allowing wind turbines increased to 2,000 metres from the current 800 metres. The amendment if passed, would obviously force the company to alter its plans.
Dentinger further asked council to pass first reading on the proposed bylaw amendment at the meeting so people can attend a future meeting and debate the matter in public.
ABO Wind Canada Ltd. is proposing the project and held an open house on April 5 at the Falher Regional Recreation Complex to present its plans. To date, the company has not applied for a development permit but it expected to in the next few months. Hundreds of concerned residents attended the open house to voice their concerns and have their questions addressed by the multiple company representatives.
The wind power project plans will include a 160-megawatt renewable wind project, inclusive of between 25 and 27 wind turbines, that stretches between Falher and the village of Nampa, and is set to help produce enough clean energy to power roughly 65,000 homes.
Rene Houle owns an acreage in the area the site is proposed to be erected.
“Our main concern is the noise factor, but it probably won’t affect us much since the windmills are east of our house. The staff were able to address the concerns that were thrown at them from the observation I took in,” he said at the open house.
The Smoky River Wind Project is currently in the early planning stages, with ABO Wind’s anticipation to submit their application to the Alberta Utilities Commission in the second half of 2023.
Although many concerns were addressed, some vocalized long-term residual concerns. There are concerns about affects on neurodivergent community, resale value of property within the area the wind turbines are
proposed, and affects on migratory fowl and other wildlife, just to name a few.
“I’m more convinced now that property values will drop, that at least some people will find it unbearable to live beside,” said M.D. resident Michelle Desaulniers.
“Those landowners who have agreed to the sites don’t live there (with the exception of one, but it is likely his family will move before the project is complete.) They were not able to tell me what type of turbines would be used; they don’t know yet. It is my understanding that there should be a reclamation bond in place, but at 10 per cent of the project cost, it really wouldn’t cover enough of the abandonment costs.”
If the project proceeds, there is a promise of economic benefits to the region, including the injection of multi-millions of dollars per year, which would greatly help the region.
But as far as the wind concerns group is concerned, the potential negative health impacts are more important and override economic benefits. For that reason, they want the turbines far away from homes.
At the June 14 M.D. meeting, Carol Fischer spoke at length about the health concerns of wind turbines. She first spoke about the effects of Wind Turbine Syndrome and cited a 2021 French court decision awarding a couple $84,000 after a company erected six turbines within 700-1,300 metres of their home in 2008.
“The couple were healthy until five years later when a fire burned the trees in front of their home and wind turbines were visible. The couple moved away in 2015 and symptoms improved.”
Fischer also cited a study from Dr. Christopher Hanning on wind turbine noise causing sleep disturbance.
“Other symptoms include fatigue, headache, nausea, memory problems and tiredness,” said Fischer, citing the report.
“You are at greater risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” she added.
And, the report also cited a safe distance from wind turbines is 2,000 metres, which the group wants to see implemented at Smoky River.
Next was a report from Dr Sarah Laurie where an Australian court found that wind turbine noise exposure was a “pathway to disease”.
And a Finish study found wind turbine infrasound makes it unsafe for residents living within 15 km.
“Germany’s Max Planck Institute has identified sub-audible infrasound as the case of stress, sleep disruption and more; and a Swedish group have shown that it’s the pulsating nature of low-frequency wind turbine noise (amplitude modulation) that is responsible for sleep problems in those forced to live with it.”
Fischer cited the report saying symptoms start to occur within a few months.
“Symptoms would decrease significantly in the first 10 km, with even more symptoms near the wind turbine. Most typical was sleep disturbance or change in the need for night’s sleep, fatigue and various pains.”
Fischer also said there was clear evidence disproving claims by the wind industry that infrasound is not an issue, that wind turbine noise leads to adverse health effects, and a setback of only 1,000 to 1,500 feet is sufficient.
She also alluded to ice shedding. She claimed on a gusty day ice could be thrown from turbines endangering domestic animals in the area as well as striking humans or passing vehicles. She presented proof from wind turbines validating with data from field measurements using drones to back up her claim.
Even farmers may be affected, as wind firms dry the soil. Her report indicated numbers were less than five per cent but it was a reduction and would lead to less production.
Fischer concluded asking council to not only increase the setback to 2,000 metres in the M.D, but to protect all Albertans.
“. . .lobby the Alberta government for stronger legislation and regulations to be put in place to protect the residents and landowners of the M.D. of Smoky River, as well as Albertans. . .action needs to be taken now. Once a wind turbine field is constructed, it is too late to change the effects in that area. Residents are affected or will move away, wildlife will migrate to another area, and the community will be forever changed.”
Brochu addressed the delegation afterwards. He said council recently toured central and southern Alberta to examine wind farms first-hand and talk to local people to learn more about the issue.
“It’s your job to do what the people want,” said one man.
“It’s not southern Alberta’s problem. It’s our problem.
Brochu said council did not have time at the meeting to share everything they learned on their tour and promised a public information meeting soon.
“I appreciate this type of support,” he told the delegation.
He added council “learned a lot” during the tour adding they looked at windmills and spoke to councils.
But, he told the delegation, the Alberta Utilities Commission, not council, makes the final say.
“They are God.”
He added once a landowner signs up to OK a project it is up to others to “disprove” and stop it.
“We don’t even have an application for a windmill here yet,” he said.
“They (ABO Wind Canada) are in the environmental phase, it could take 6-9 months. At the end, the AUC will decide,” Brochu added.
Fischer disputed the statement saying she heard ABO is submitting to the AUC by the end of August.
Smoky River Wind Concerns has a Facebook page to update members and concerned citizens. They thanked people for attending the council meeting.
“You are the backbone to this group and we appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time out of your day to help support us while presenting the M.D. of Smoky River with an application to amend the existing bylaw for large turbines. . .anxiously awaiting a response from the M.D council to see if there will be a public hearing.”
Smoky River Wind Concerns is holding a second public meeting June 21 at 7 p.m. at Club Alouette in Falher to further discuss the project.
by Chris Clegg and Emily Plihal
June 22, 2023