Recent News and Events
The Coast, January 13 - January 19, 2011: See 'A Foul Wind' below.
Please stop in often. We will continue to frequently update this section with both past and new news articles.
- A Foul Wind
- Hughes & Wark on radio: Industrial wind oversold
- Blow Job
- Glen Dhu greenhouse gas reductions unsupported
- EAS Launches 'Save Our Mountain' Campaign
- We cannot ignore our responsibility to place
- Lessons from the "Close Enough" school of environmental assessment
- A mighty wind
- There's trouble blowing in the wind
- Environment ignored
The fight against Shear Wind shows that timelines for Nova Scotia's Freedom of Information Act impede citizens' legal appeals.
The Coast, January 13 - January 19, 2011
By Bruce Wark
Father Robert McNeil drew chuckles at a Pictou County funeral last week when he recited a Depression-era verse: "Life is mysterious/Don't take it too serious/You work, you save/You worry so/But you can't take it with you/When you go, go, go."
The Roman Catholic priest was speaking during a funeral mass for June MacDonald, 65, a retired teacher who spent the last few years fighting an industrial wind project looming over her family's farm. MacDonald lost her battle with the wind company before she lost her battle with cancer. She died two days after the first wind turbines started turning. Her husband, Rod---whose family had farmed the fields below Brown's Mountain since 1792---died the night before her funeral.
Their story is both inspiring and sad. And in the background is news of regulatory changes that should concern all activists who---like June MacDonald---try to challenge big developers.
"The most important thing about June," neighbour Faye Kinney remembers, "was she absolutely had no fear. It didn't matter who they were or how important they were, it didn't matter how important they thought they were, June stood her ground." Kinney was referring to MacDonald's work as a member of the Eco Awareness Society, a small citizens' group that fought unsuccessfully against the installation of industrial-sized wind turbines near their homes. Shear Wind Inc., which is building Nova Scotia's biggest wind farm, had appointed June MacDonald to its Community Liaison Committee in 2008. But MacDonald peppered Shear Wind officials with so many questions that after a few meetings, the company disbanded the committee and set up a new one without her. "She wanted answers, they didn't give her answers, and she was like a dog with a bone," Kinney recalls. "They had to get rid of her."
Several of MacDonald's questions were about noise levels, a main concern of EAS members---especially those who live less than two kilometres from the turbines. Shear Wind said it was satisfied noise levels would be at or below minimal acceptable levels, but wouldn't guarantee it in writing or commit to moving any turbines that generated excessive noise. The company commissioned another noise study---but didn't make the results public. It did, however, submit its new study to an Antigonish municipal official who issued a development permit last June.
And this is where the story takes a turn that is bound to have negative implications for anyone seeking to challenge government development approvals. The EAS considered appealing the municipal decision to the NS Supreme Court, but before spending up to $2,500 to file its appeal, the group needed to see if the new noise study answered its concerns. Citizens have 25 business days to file such appeals. Public officials, however, have 30 days to respond to requests for information, allowing them to run out the clock. And that's what happened to the EAS. It received Shear Wind's new study one day after the 25-day limit expired. Peter McInroy, the EAS's lawyer, points out that citizens' groups used to have six months to file appeals, but in 2009 the courts cut the time drastically.
"What they did to the time limit is shocking; I found it incredible what they did," McInroy says. "I could see them moving it from six months to three, but 25 days is a terribly short time span."
Meantime, uncertainty over the Supreme Court appeal divided the EAS. In September, June MacDonald, stressed out over her husband's terminal cancer and worried about launching a court case that could easily cost $25,000, resigned from the EAS board. The group did launch its appeal in mid-September, but an unsympathetic judge ruled last month that the 25-day time limit had expired.
Tired and ill, both June and Rod MacDonald died early this month. As Father McNeil pointed out, June MacDonald won't be taking her Shear Wind worries with her. But the situation looks grim for living activists seeking to challenge bureaucrats who approve controversial developments. (To top)
Excerpts from Rick Howe's radio phone-in program
Maritime Morning, Rogers 95.7 (Halifax), August 5, 2010
Howe’s quests are Dr. Larry Hughes, professor in the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering, Dalhousie University
and Bruce Wark, investigative journalist published in The Coast (Halifax)
Hughes: We’re trying to make wind appear to be a continuous supply of energy, which it isn’t. It’s an intermittent supply of energy, so we’re relying on backup sources of energy such as natural gas which is expensive and if you look at Nova Scotia, there’s not as much now as there used to be and there’s going to be a damn sight less as the years go by...The question is, how are we going to incorporate wind in such a way that it appears to be a continuous supply of energy because when you come home and turn your lights on, you expect the lights to come on...We will probably have to rely on things like coal for our continuous supply of electricity. We will then look at the alternatives and the alternatives, for example, being wind, let’s talk about wind first. In the case of wind, we know it’s intermittent, so what can we do? Well, we can use it for things like heating and cooling. That is we require storage...If we can introduce storage into the system, we can then start using the electricity from the wind for things like transportation and heating and cooling.
Howe: Do we have that capability?
Hughes: Yes we do. It’s very exciting. The work we’ve been doing has shown that with the wind, we can use electric-thermal storage units or ETS units, which Nova Scotia Power supplies to people, for a fee of course, and they can then charge their homes. But the way Nova Scotia Power works...it’s between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. [that] the electric-thermal storage units are charged. During the rest of the day, they’re discharged. So, what’s happening is, your home is being heated essentially by cheap coal, which allows Nova Scotia Power to offer you cheaper rates for your off-peak electricity. But what we’ve shown, and a number of jurisdictions have now picked this up, is that when the wind blows, you use that to charge the electric-thermal storage units. In other words, the wind can blow anytime throughout the day so you have your electric-thermal storage unit accepting the electricity from the wind and you use that for heating purposes...We can also use it [wind] for transportation purposes. That is, if we go to electrically powered vehicles, that is for example, buses or cars, that will then allow us to take advantage of the wind
Hughes: [responding to caller who talked about home storage batteries decades ago]: Forty, fifty, sixty years ago, people were using machines called wind chargers...The wind would blow, they would charge the batteries and you would have electricity in the home primarily for lighting and the radio and so forth...My wife and I do this at our cottage. We have a wind turbine. We also have solar panels. So, those periods during which...the wind isn’t there for months at a time or for lengthy periods, the solar panels can kick in and charge the batteries.
Howe: Were these things relatively expensive to install?
Hughes: That comes to the next point. The wind turbines themselves are relatively inexpensive these days. You can buy them probably for under a thousand dollars. The batteries start becoming more expensive and if you’re going to go to solar, you’re going to be paying a great deal of money. So that’s why you see many people really just adopting the wind turbine and the batteries and this does work, there’s no disputing that. However, there are catches. It is unlikely that you would see widespread application of this in urban areas simply because the wind turbines can be noisy.
Howe asks about the size of Hughes’s wind turbine.
Hughes: We’re just using it for our electricity for our batteries and for our lighting and our radio...It would be essentially a home size which would be about a kilowatt. The large commercial turbines, utility-scale turbines, are several thousand times larger than that.
Howe refers to Bruce Wark’s Coast article which says that “wind might not be all it’s cracked up to be as far indeed lowering [greenhouse gas] emissions, being green and as well has a number of health impacts.” He reads a passage from the article listing adverse health effects that residents of Mars Hill, Maine are suffering. The residents live within a kilometre of industrial wind turbines. “Bruce Wark good morning to you sir...You don’t seem to think a whole lot about wind energy here Bruce?”
Wark: What we’re talking about in the [Coast] article is not exactly what Larry Hughes is talking about. We’re talking about industrial wind farms, the huge industrial power plants that are designed to use up to 30, in this case, wind turbines, huge 400 foot wind turbines that are planted along ridges in Pictou County, Antigonish County. That wind farm could expand to hundreds of turbines and generate electricity on an intermittent basis. But I would say that’s industrial wind and that’s a very different thing from Larry Hughes’s small turbine in his back yard.
Howe points out that Hughes is also talking about huge, industrial wind turbines.
Hughes: The way we’re using wind right now is we do require backup and as a result, there has not been the emissions reductions that the proponents of wind have claimed. So, on that score, Bruce is absolutely correct because utilities require some form of backup and in Nova Scotia’s case and many other utilities’ case, unless there is natural gas on standby or hydroelectricity on standby, the utilities have to use what is referred to as spinning reserve. And the spinning reserve essentially says the thermal power station is burning coal or oil or natural gas in anticipation of the wind disappearing. If the wind isn’t there, these facilities have to kick in. So yes, in that regard, Bruce is absolutely correct that this [GHG emissions reductions] has not been achieved. However, what we’re talking about is by...starting to use storage, we can get round this problem because when the wind blows, we absorb the energy and when the wind isn’t blowing, the services that needed the electricity are no longer demanding it.
Howe: But the way you see things, is there a need for these big wind farms that Bruce finds are perhaps having, among other things, health impacts on people who live in the area.
Hughes: I agree with that as well. There have been studies, some of them are open to debate and a great deal of discussion, perhaps we’re putting them [wind turbines] in the wrong locations. Perhaps we should be putting them, for example, offshore...Denmark is the best example. Perhaps, if we’re going to be doing this, we should be putting these turbines offshore. I don’t want to say out of sight, out of mind but they would certainly have a lower impact on people than they would putting turbines within a kilometre of people’s houses.
Howe: Bruce, knowing that we need to, again, find alternatives to oil are you suggesting that wind is not the answer here or that like Larry said, maybe we should find other locations for these big wind farms that you’re critical of here in your article?
Wark: I think wind has been sold on the basis of...if we generate a megawatt of electricity using wind, then we don’t need to burn coal or gas or biomass to do that, to generate that megawatt. And as Larry has quite correctly pointed out, that’s not exactly true. We need spinning reserve backup and that means the greenhouse gas reductions that are claimed are not really there. Yes, I think that wind is being oversold in the way that we’re planning to use it now. And of course, Nova Scotia has its renewable electricity plan which is heavily reliant on wind to double renewable electricity generation by 2015 and to quadruple it by 2020. And I just don’t think that wind can do that job with the natural gas backup and achieve the savings in greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand and then you’ve got the health effects, we haven’t talked about the effects on wildlife, we haven’t talked about the esthetic view of these things in tourist areas. I just think that wind is being way oversold as a solution.
Howe: You’re suggesting in your article that perhaps it’s nothing more than an effort to give us the impression that something is being done...Is it all a game of smoke and mirrors?
Wark: Well, in fact, I went with Premier Dexter to Dalhousie Mountain where they announced the renewable electricity plan and of course he was posing right underneath a wind turbine with other ones in the background because the politicians believe that the wind turbine itself is a symbol of green energy. And I’m suggesting in the article that the way they’re going about things, that’s not true at all.
Howe: Alright, Larry, you want to comment on that, we’ve got about a minute before we take a break for the news?
Hughes: I think Bruce is correct. There’s no disputing that. The way it is being sold in this province is that in many respects, it’s like the recycling programs. All we have to do is recycle and we’ll save the planet. All we have to do is put up some wind turbines and we’ll save the planet. There is much more to this. It is not that simple and for it to be sold that way is incorrect. (To top)
Cathy Leeming with her painting of Brown's Mountain.
The Eco Awareness Society is launching a “Save Our Mountain” campaign with the raffle of a beautiful painting donated by local artist Cathy Leeming. The painting depicts Browns Mountain in Bailey’s Brook, as it could continue without the wind turbines from Shear Wind’s Glen Dhu wind power plant arrayed prominently along its ridgeline.
“Wildlife impacts, degraded environment and reduced quality of life around such projects is well documented, but we have been told that these are the sacrifices we must make for the common good. However, recent scientific reports from established institutions in Denmark, Germany and Spain have shown little to no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or fossil fuel use despite major wind installations in all three countries,” said Susan Overmyer, spokesperson for EAS. “Our group simply wants to save our homes and mountain before these irreversible damages occur and to no good end.” she said.
Raffle tickets are $2.00 each or 3 for $5.00 and can be purchased July 24th at the New Glasgow Farmers Market. Other locations will be announced on CKEC radio. The drawing will be held on CKEC radio on September 30th, 2010. (To top)
Wind power is sold as the answer to Nova Scotia’s quest for renewable energy, but we’re overlooking the health effects on people who live near windmills, and some serious questions about whether wind can really solve our electrical problems.
The Coast, Volume 18, Number 10, August 5 - August 11, 2010
By Bruce Wark
There are ironies everywhere if you notice them. Like the Dutch windmills on June MacDonald's yellow tablecloth. MacDonald, a 64-year-old retired school teacher with twinkling eyes and good-humoured determination, has been fighting for more than a year against the installation of windmills near her home in Baileys Brook, Pictou County. But they're nothing like the squat, old-fashioned ones on her kitchen table
The modern industrial windmills that worry MacDonald and her husband, Rod, tower 121 metres to the topmost blade. That's almost one-and-a-half times the height of Purdy's Wharf Tower 2 on the Halifax waterfront. The tips of their 41-metre-long blades can sweep through the air at over 300 kilometres an hour, cleaving a swath of sky that covers 5,281 square metres, almost the same area as an American football field.
"The wind turbines won't be tiny, they'll be huge. They'll dominate that ridge line from end all the way down to end," says neighbour Kristen Overmyer as he stands in June MacDonald's living room, pointing across the cow pasture to Brown's Mountain, the imposing, weathered ridge that shelters the tiny community of Baileys Brook at its foot, but which is buffeted by strong westerly winds at its peak. "When you look at this beautiful setting here, your attention is going to be immediately drawn to these machines, so the character of this entire valley is going to be changed forever."
Another irony: Overmyer and his artist-wife, Susan, moved here seven years ago from the US after seeing pictures of Pictou County on American TV. They fell in love with the area's quiet beauty, but now find themselves trying to defend it against a big industrial project.
"I have a master's in mechanical engineering and three years ago, when I was first looking at these machines, yes, I could see a certain aesthetic appreciation for the design of them," says Overmyer, a tall, soft-spoken man whose neat appearance matches his meticulous research methods. "But when you take a setting like this and you transform it into an industrial power-generating plant, with not just one of these machines or three of these machines, but 30 of them in the first phase alone, then that's a very different story."
"I started off being pro-windmills until I learned a little more," says June MacDonald, who notes she'll likely see 18 turbines about 1,400 metres from her home. "However, we really have no guarantee of that because all we've seen so far is a map with dots on it."
The map with dots on it can be found in documents that Shear Wind Inc. submitted to provincial officials in August 2008.1 The Bedford-based company, which has since sold a controlling interest to Spanish billionaire Manuel Jove, president of Inveravante, a privately held Spanish utility conglomerate,2 was seeking environmental approval for Phase 1 of its Glen Dhu power project.3 The $170 million first phase consists of 30 wind turbines, each generating two megawatts of electricity. It was originally scheduled to be up and running by December 2009, but was postponed until the end of this year. Now, the company is promising to have it in full operation by early 2011. If a second phase is eventually approved, it could bring the total number of turbines to 100 or more, spread over 10,000 acres.4
Bitter lessons from Maine
Last year, the Overmyers, the MacDonalds and several of their neighbours established a non-profit group called the Eco Awareness Society to gather research and forge alliances in the fight against the Glen Dhu project.5 As part of their efforts, they began following events in Mars Hill, a town in northern Maine close to the New Brunswick border where 17 families have filed lawsuits against a wind company, two construction firms and the town itself over the installation of 28 one-and-a-half megawatt wind turbines.6 The Mars Hill turbines were erected along the top of a ridge similar in height to Brown's Mountain. And according to people who live within a kilometre of them, life has been hell since the first turbines started turning in December 2006.7
"I have never felt the rage that I feel when I go out to put chicken on my grill and it's so damn loud I don't want to stand out there and cook it," says Carol Cowperthwaite, a 68-year-old retired teacher who lives with her husband Merle on land facing Mars Hill Mountain. "I've never felt that kind of rage. It's like a rage where I could kill somebody. That's how it affects me."
The Cowperthwaites are among the families who have launched lawsuits seeking compensation for loss in property values as well as for the adverse health and environmental effects they say the wind turbines are causing. Carol Cowperthwaite says a municipal official assured them before they bought their property that the turbines wouldn't affect them. "The town manager told us three times, three different times he told us, that we wouldn't even see them, much less hear them because they were going on the front side of the mountain. That was a huge lie."
The Cowperthwaites participated in a study of turbine effects conducted by Michael Nissenbaum, a radiologist who practises at the Northern Maine Medical Center. Nissenbaum interviewed 22 of about 30 adults living within a kilometre of the turbines. He found 18 reported chronic sleep deprivation, nine said they were experiencing severe headaches, including migraines, 13 reported stress, 17 persistent anger and more than a third had new or worsened depression. Residents also reported dizziness and nausea due to the flickering light and shadows cast by fast-turning turbine blades.
When Nissenbaum compared those results with 27 interviews he conducted among people who lived nearly five kilometres away, he found that the greater distance reduced turbine health effects to zero. He presented his findings to the Maine Medical Association, which passed a resolution last September calling for more public education about the effects of wind turbines, as well as further research. "It is not a matter of not having wind turbines," Nissenbaum's study concludes. "It is a matter of putting them where they will not affect people's health."8
Glen Dhu worries
Last January, The Coast began asking Ian Tillard, Shear Wind's chief operating officer, for an interview about the Glen Dhu project in Pictou County. Tillard agreed to talk, but repeatedly postponed interview dates set up in February and March. In April, he said he didn't see the need for an interview after all, and referred us to company newsletters and other public documents. Those documents say that the closest homes will be 1.12 kilometres away from the turbines. These are properties whose owners are leasing land to the company. The Overmyers, MacDonalds and other residents around Baileys Brook, who are not leasing land, will be at least 1.44 kilometres from the turbines.
"I would say the people in Nova Scotia have reason to be worried," says Richard James, an acoustics engineer based in Michigan. He notes that as in Mars Hill, Maine, the Shear Wind turbines will be installed on ridge tops. "Wind speeds on top of the ridge will generally be much, much higher than they are in the valley at the foot of the ridge." James says. "This leads to a very common condition where during the night there's absolutely no sound in the community at the foot of the ridge. It would be so quiet you could hear a clock ticking and the turbines will be running full blast and that will lead to complaints."
James, who has worked since 2006 on wind turbine issues with community groups in the eastern US and Ontario,9 says that large turbines on ridge tops should be at least three kilometres from the nearest homes. He explains that the low frequency noise generated by turbines can carry long distances. "If you can imagine a thunder storm when it's at a great distance you hear a rumble," James says. "It's essentially a low vibratory rumble that goes right through people's homes. Windows open, windows closed, doesn't matter."
He adds that under moderate wind conditions, the turbines produce a "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh," while higher winds generate thumping sounds. "It can actually turn into thumps that are palpable in a person's chest," he explains. "I've experienced that personally and I'm not particularly sensitive to low frequency sound. I know other acousticians who are more sensitive to low frequency and they have a difficulty even being near the wind turbines."
James is familiar with the situation in Lower West Pubnico, where Daniel d'Entremont, his wife Carolyn and their six children abandoned their home in 2006 about a year after the installation of 17 wind turbines, some as close as 300 metres and all within 1.6 kilometres. The d'Entremonts suffered a wide range of effects including ringing in their ears, blurred vision and problems concentrating on school work. "I get this pulsating feeling in my chest---a feeling I don't like, but I can't get rid of," Daniel d'Entremont told the Halifax Daily News. "I can't shake it off, unless I get away from the turbines."10
Ward and Mae Brubacher know the feeling. The Brubachers, a couple in their 50s who live 750 metres from two Shear Wind turbines on remote Fitzpatrick Mountain in Pictou County,11 compare the noise vibrations to the booming of car stereo speakers. "Many times we have laid awake in bed with all the windows shut in the house listening to the whompf, whompf, whompf," says Ward Brubacher. "You get up, you read, you wait until you're exhausted so you can sleep through it."
"There are times when I've been working on my flowerbeds and I have to get into the car and go into town for a break from the noise," says Mae Brubacher. "Sometimes it's four to five days in a row when it's really loud. You're losing sleep and there are certain days when you're stressed to the limit." In another of life's ironies, the Brubachers generate electricity from a solar panel and live completely off the grid. They describe themselves as "tree huggers" who have nothing against "green" energy, but add that people who haven't experienced wind turbines have no idea what they're like.
"The general public is quite excited about wind power and have been brainwashed to think wherever they see a wind farm that's great, Nova Scotia is becoming a leader in green energy," Ward says. "People are brainwashed to think that. That's what we're up against."
Citizens groups fighting the installation of wind turbines are now active all over the world including in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. In April, the Japanese government responded to persistent citizens' complaints about headaches, insomnia, dizziness and buzzing in the ears by setting up a four-year health study.12 Meanwhile, in Ontario, a coalition of 44 citizens' groups called Wind Concerns Ontario has helped persuade more than 60 municipalities to pass resolutions calling for more local control over wind projects, and in some cases, a moratorium on new ones.13 The coalition is also supporting a lawsuit to be heard in September that, if successful, could stop any new projects until independent medical studies are completed.14
Nova Scotia opposition
So far in Nova Scotia, public officials from the premier on down seem singularly unconcerned about the potential health effects of wind turbines. Darrell Dexter told us in late April that although numerous scientific studies have been conducted, none has found any connection between turbines and health---a statement contradicted by Allison Denning, a senior official at the federal health department. In August 2009, Denning sent a letter to provincial environment officials listing a number of peer-reviewed scientific studies which suggest that wind turbines may have adverse health effects.15
Official indifference and company secrecy have made opposition to the Glen Dhu project an exercise in frustration. When residents around Baileys Brook tried to find out how close the wind turbines would be to their homes, Shear Wind refused to release site maps. Instead, the company assured residents they had nothing to worry about. Kristen Overmyer says that at a public meeting on August 30, 2007, Shear Wind president and CEO Mike Magnus claimed the closest turbines would be at least two kilometres away. Overmyer says Magnus went even further during a public meeting on April 2, 2008. When homeowner Bob Bennett of Merigomish expressed concerns that turbines would be installed near his home, the New Glasgow News quoted Magnus as saying, "From what we can gather, 95 percent of the turbines are located three to four kilometers away from the closest residence."16
Overmyer says residents finally discovered the truth when the company filed for environmental approval in August 2008. "Instead of the turbines being far back in the highlands as described, there was a phalanx of turbines pressed hard against the escarpment's edge and looming over the valley," Overmyer wrote in an email to The Coast. "The sheer magnitude of the deceit first shocked, then galvanized our group."
Overmyer and his neighbours gathered thousands of pages of technical evidence documenting the potential adverse effects of wind turbines on human health, on wildlife such as birds and bats and on possible disruptions to fragile ecosystems during construction and maintenance. In the fall of 2008, about 18 people sent letters outlining their evidence to provincial officials who were considering Shear Wind's application for environmental approval of its Glen Dhu project.
In October 2008, then-environment minister Mark Parent responded to citizens' complaints when he sent a letter to Shear Wind asking the company for more information about noise levels and the proximity of the turbines to homes.17 However, in a cabinet shuffle three months later, David Morse replaced Parent as environment minister and in February 2009, Morse approved the Glen Dhu project.
When the Eco Awareness Society wrote to the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection last April asking for a halt to any further wind projects until independent health studies had been conducted, Maureen MacDonald responded that her department did not have the power to intervene since wind projects are regulated by the Department of the Environment. Her letter arrived after the province announced that Nova Scotia would more than double renewable electricity generation by 2015 and quadruple it by 2020.18 The renewable electricity plan relies on the expansion of industrial wind projects and, since less than three percent of Nova Scotia's electricity now comes from wind, scores of new wind turbines may have to be installed across the rural landscape in an attempt to meet the government's targets.
Is wind really "green"?
And that brings us to another irony: In the end, wind power may not make that much of a difference in the actual volume of Nova Scotia's greenhouse gas emissions. To be sure, this is a hotly contested issue, but critics of wind power point out that adding large amounts of industrial wind power to the electricity grid is not as simple or problem-free as it seems. That's because wind is an intermittent and variable power source. It may or may not be blowing at optimum speeds when needed most. In fact, on average, wind turbines produce a maximum of only about 30 percent of their rated capacity over a given year, often when electricity demand is low.
The intermittency and variability of wind means it must be backed up by a more reliable source, and Nova Scotia Power is planning to use natural gas generators to do the job. That means that for every megawatt of intermittent wind power, NSPI must be able to generate a megawatt of power using natural gas turbines that can be turned up and down rapidly as winds rise and fall. Rapid powering up and down means the gas turbines run less efficiently, burning more fuel to generate each unit of electricity. And, as John Barwis, a retired petroleum geologist points out, "at some level of efficiency loss, the extra fossil fuel consumed becomes greater than the fuel saved from using wind turbines."19
In the end, all those extra single-cycle gas generators ever at the ready to back up intermittent wind turbines may emit enough greenhouse gases to cancel out most, if not all, of the emissions benefits of wind.20 21
Supporters of wind power, such as Professor Yves Gagnon at the University of Moncton,22 say that backing up intermittent wind would be easier if Nova Scotia expanded its grid connections with New Brunswick. When the wind isn't blowing in northern Nova Scotia, Gagnon says, we could import wind power from northern New Brunswick.
But critics say Maritime weather patterns are often regional and therefore it's not guaranteed that winds will be high in one province when they're low in the other. And although Nova Scotia Power is planning to expand its grid connections with New Brunswick,23 it will likely take five to 10 years to complete, the same period in which renewable power generation is supposed to quadruple.
So why is Nova Scotia uncritically embracing wind power? "Short answer: politics and money," says Kristen Overmyer who notes that governments set renewable energy targets creating the economic climate for the wind industry to make money, even if the greenhouse gas reductions the industry promises are questionable.
"People look at a wind turbine; it's a very visible sign that you're doing something for the environment. So the politicians can put up something very visible. What is sexy or visible about improving the efficiency of a power plant? Nothing." (To top)
20 See, for example, a report by Peter Lang, a retired Australian engineer with 40 years experience with a variety of energy/electricity projects. In a report entitled, "Cost and Quantity of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Avoided by Wind Generation", http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/wind-power.pdf Lang concludes that: "1. Wind power does not avoid significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. 2. Wind power is a very high cost way to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. 3. Wind power, even with high capacity penetration, can not make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
21 Also see results of UK study commissioned by the Renewable Energy Foundation: http://www.4ecotips.com/eco/article_show.php?aid=1789&id=279 The full study can be found at: http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/wp-content/uploads/oswald-energy-policy-2008.pdf
22 A report by Yves Gagnon can be found at: http://eco-efficiency.management.dal.ca/Files/NSREC/NSREC_-_Synthesis_Paper_Final_Yves_Gagnon_-_December_2009.pdf
23 http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2010/07/21/new-brunswick-nova-scotia-to-improve-grid/ (To top)
Addendum to prior article
The Coast, Volume 18, Number 10, August 5 - August 11, 2010
By Bruce Wark
Bruce Wark adds: It is interesting what Shear Wind has to say about the Glen Dhu project resulting in GHG emissions reductions. At Shear Wind's open house that I attended last January in Antigonish County, the company had a display board listing "Local Benefits of the Glen Dhu Wind Farm". The final point on the board read: "Environmentally Sustainable project that plays a significant part in Nova Scotia's goal to reduce greenhouse gas." The company also made the following statement in a newsletter it circulated to households in Baileys Brook in the fall of 2008: "At the local level, by hosting a wind farm, the local communities around the proposed Shear Wind farm will be making their own essential contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." But when the Eco Awareness Society asked Shear Wind to explain specifically how its project would reduce GHG emissions in Nova Scotia and to quantify the reductions that could be reasonably expected, the company gave this written response in its December 2009---January 2010 newsletter: "Wind energy is recognized as a part of Nova Scotia government's goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This is cited in both the Nova Scotia 2009 Energy Strategy and the 'interim report to stakeholders' (Dec, 2009) led by David Wheeler. Shear Wind is proud to be a significant contributor to Nova Scotia's Wind energy plan. Metrics are available from other studies." In one of the documents it submitted to the environmental assessment process, the company said that since Nova Scotia Power has sole discretion over the use of wind power on the grid, GHG emissions reductions were outside the scope of Shear Wind's responsibility. In other words, the company seems happy to claim that the Glen Dhu project will contribute significantly to GHG emissions reductions, but it has consistently refused to support that statement with any facts or projections. (To top)
New Glasgow News, July 16, 2010
by Susan Overmyer, Bailey's Brook
As we contemplate the appropriateness of Shear Wind’s Glen Dhu Wind Power Project for our community, we should ask, “What are our responsibilities to the natural world, to each other and to our community?”
Culture is created from our stories, history and connection to a particular place. Culture and place are images of each other. Community is created from those same stories, history and connection to place, but community also requires compassion. It is the history of a given place, combined with compassion that holds a community together.
Land as a community is the foundation of ecology. It is our history with the land that governs our ethics, that supplies a memory to the land and imbues us with a morality and a responsibility to speak for that environment and the wildlife that exist there.
If we ignore our responsibility and relationship to place then that place will suffer. Eventually the wildlife and we ourselves will suffer and community will be lost.
If our connection to place is reduced simply to a deed for land that we can profit from while inflicting property devaluation on our neighbours, then we have opened ourselves and our community to exploitation and manipulation for a short-term gain for a select few.
Nature, wildlife, scenic views, quality of life and human health do not stop at each owner’s property line. These are a communal resource held together by memories and compassion for each other and the ecology of the area.
Those who seek to gain financially from the industrialization of this community must not lie to this same community by stating that they are speaking for the land. We must not simply and superficially grab at an idea without fully informing ourselves of the consequences of this idea.
For any community and culture to remain strong, viable, decent, generous and wise, there must be a recognition of our responsibilities to place and to each other.
There is great power in a community that shares its stories, documents its history and protects the ecology of its chosen place. These are the places people choose to live in and call home. These are the places people choose to travel to, not a place that has been industrialized and exploited, not a place that has forsaken its compassion and ecology. (To top)
New Glasgow News, July 9, 2010
By Mark Leeming
It is a common and rueful observation among parents that children of a certain (broad) age range tend to look for things in a few convenient places and then quickly give up the search. The next step usually is to call for Mom, whose magical ability to find the unfindable is fairly easy to explain: she knows where to look. Her advice to the kids – “Open your eyes!” – is probably pretty universal too, which is comforting in a way: we all grow up and learn to look for things in the right places. The system works.
Except when it doesn’t. Some of us apparently didn’t learn Mom’s lesson well, and of those who didn’t a surprising number are working to knock up wind turbines around Pictou County.
By now most everyone in the county must know of the wind power plant on Dalhousie Mountain, but that is not the only development of its kind in the area. Without any towers up yet, Shear Wind Inc.’s Glen Dubh project on the Antigonish county border is not as well known as it should be – well known for one-eyed attempts at science, that is.
There are sufficient examples of careless searching in Shear Wind’s work to fill a much larger essay and astound even a mother of three, but let’s focus on a particularly demonstrative one: their wildlife studies.
Part of the business of environmental assessment is to predict the impact on local wildlife, so when the Glen Dubh assessment was submitted in 2008 there was a bat population study included. As these things go, it was straightforward stuff: the researchers put recording devices in the woods and attempted to deduce by sound the number of bats flying at different heights. Ideal, if the study area weren’t eight kilometres away from the nearest turbine. Having failed to search for hibernacula in the project area, and able to say little more after such a distant study than “bat fatalities may result,” Shear Wind promised only a “monitoring program.”
Bats aren’t much loved, it’s true, but they are important animals nonetheless. Anything that eats as many insects as they do ought to be the ugly little mascot of a province that wants to preserve its forests and farms in good health. Unfortunately wind turbines spell trouble for bats everywhere; the spinning blades create areas of low air pressure that rupture their lungs without any contact at all. The numbers killed can be massive, but they can also be negligible. It all depends on the site, and on knowing its dangers beforehand.
Of course, bats are not alone at risk from carelessly located wind turbines. An earlier concern with birds has never disappeared.
Shear Wind had a bird study completed in 2007, as required, to match its bat study. The main conclusion to come of it was that the bird populations of the Pictou-Antigonish highlands needed a much closer look before the effects of a wind power plant could be determined with any certainty. In broad terms, the researchers could only say that the edge of the highlands would be a particularly sensitive area. Rather than take that closer look, Shear Wind decided instead to move a third of their turbines out of the configuration studied and up to the edge of the highlands. Their explanation: “there is no evidence” that the redesigned project “will have an impact on the bald eagle population.”
Indeed, there is seldom evidence found where none is looked for.
Ironically, looking in the wrong place for information about wildlife goes against the logic of the wind industry’s own favourite argument. For years, whenever opponents pointed to the infamous Altamont Pass wind power plant in California and its hundreds of hawks and eagles killed annually, developers would insist that Altamont was an early adopter’s mistake, placed on a ridge line without any study of how that particular site would affect the number of bird strikes. Site-specific impact studies became an industry mantra. Shear Wind’s off-target bird and bat studies are exactly the opposite of the supposed new standard.
Now, it is no secret that when it comes to any new industrial development people usually care more about the health of their own species than any other, and despite my belief that the two interests usually coincide, I sympathize. Wind power opponents focus their fire where experience has focused their fears: human health. Of Nova Scotians forced from their homes by wind power plants we can already count one family in Pubnico. Of Canadians with injured health in this and all other provinces, more exist than I have space to enumerate.
Despite those precedents and despite exemplary action on health protection by municipal governments across Canada (at least 60 in the turbine-threatened province of Ontario alone), Pictou County’s legislated setback from residential property remains only one turbine’s height, and Shear Wind’s search for possible health threats remains as myopic as their search for bats and birds. It is eerily familiar language with which they dismiss the issue: there is, they say, “no scientific evidence to support” the possibility of harm to nearby residents. Once more, none sought, none found.
Corporations are not children of course, however they may act the part, and words like “negligent” get thrown at them more often than personal advice. But when someone with such a heavy responsibility to the health of an entire landscape and community does behave like a five-year-old who can’t find his mittens in just the spot he cares to look for them, I do wish there were a government regulator ready to tell him to open his eyes. The courts must be tiring of playing Mom to developers and governments both.
Mark Leeming of Pictou County is currently working on a PhD at Dalhousie University. (To top)
The Coast, Volume 17, Number 49, April 29 - May 5, 2010
By Bruce Wark
Nova Scotia’s energy minister was delivering a prepared speech atop Dalhousie Mountain, Pictou County last Friday when he suddenly stopped to observe, "My god, it’s quiet isn’t it?" Bill Estabrooks was standing beneath the barely-turning blades of a 400-foot wind turbine. Six of nine turbines in the distance stood stock still. Seemingly unaware of the irony, Estabrooks touted provincial plans for more industrial wind factories. The NDP hopes that within 10 years, 40 percent of our electricity will be produced from renewable sources such as water, wood and most of all, wind.  Except that on the day of the big announcement, there was barely a breeze, underscoring the unfortunate fact that wind turbines produce electricity only about a third of the time, often when there’s little demand for it. 
The 34 turbines on Dalhousie Mountain, where Estabrooks and Premier Darrell Dexter announced their renewable energy targets, stretch for 10 kilometres and cost $130 million. They generate only about 1.3 percent of Nova Scotia’s power. In fact, all 79 wind turbines in the province generate only about 2.8 percent of our power. That means that if the NDP politicians don’t come to their senses, many more gigantic wind turbines will march across the landscape as the government strives to more than double renewable electricity generation by 2015 and to quadruple it by 2020. And that raises this question: What will we do two thirds of the time when the wind isn’t blowing?
The government’s answer is that wind can be backed up by burning natural gas. Some experts warn, however, that turning ordinary gas turbines up and down to match wind fluctuations is wasteful, inefficient and could actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Better, they say, to invest in more efficient systems such as the one at Tufts Cove in Dartmouth where Nova Scotia Power is spending $84 million to recover waste heat from two gas turbines to power a steam turbine. Investing in such combined-cycle turbines would be cheaper than spending hundreds of millions on wind turbines that need to be backed up by natural gas anyway. Why build two generation systems when one would do? 
Besides, avoiding building more industrial wind factories would protect rural Nova Scotians who will be increasingly exposed to noisy turbines as the pressure grows to meet renewable energy targets.  Darrell Dexter says there’s no scientific proof wind turbines cause harm, but several peer-reviewed scientific studies say otherwise. The premier also seems to have forgotten his 2005 conversation with Ward and Mae Brubacher, a couple in their 50s, who live 750 metres from two turbines on remote Fitzpatrick Mountain, Pictou County. Ward says when strong winds blow, the noise vibrations are like the booming of car stereo speakers. "Many times we have laid awake in bed with all the windows shut in the house listening to the whompf, whompf, whompf," he says. "You get up, you read, you wait until you’re exhausted so you can sleep through it."
Mae says she’s been forced to stop gardening and drive into Pictou to get a break from the noise. "Sometimes it’s four to five days in a row when it’s really loud. You’re losing sleep and there are certain days when you’re stressed to the limit. Then you finally get a break." The Brubachers generate electricity from a solar panel and live completely off the grid. "We’re not against green energy," Ward says, but wind turbines are destroying their peace and quiet.
Meantime, a group of residents who live in Pictou County wrote to the minister of health this month requesting a temporary halt to industrial wind factories. The residents, members of the Eco Awareness Society, are opposing the installation of wind turbines on Browns Mountain about 1,440 metres above their homes. They sent the minister hundreds of pages of affadavits and testimonies from all over the world documenting the health effects of industrial wind including insomnia, migraines, dizziness, depression and problems with mental concentration and memory. They’re hoping Maureen MacDonald will order an independent scientific study of the health effects of wind power before the province embarks on its long and windy, dead-end road. (To top)
1. The province’s Renewal Electricity Plan is outlined in a clearly written, 28-page background report which states on page 16: "Wind will be the mainstay of our efforts to reach the 2015 renewable energy commitment..." and, "It seems likely that the largest portion of new renewable energy in 2020 will come from wind..."
2. The provincial background report (see link in footnote #1) acknowledges the intermittency of wind on page 19: "A key obstacle to the development of renewable energy is the fact that our best renewable sources — wind and tidal — are by their nature intermittent. Because they depend on natural forces that come and go, intermittent sources cannot provide a constant stream of electricity."
3. A wind factory’s average power output can be expressed as its "capacity factor." The Lightbucket blog explains: "The capacity factor of a power plant is the ratio of the electrical energy produced in a given period of time to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous maximum power operation during the same period." Lightbucket’s Table 1 shows an average world capacity factor for wind of only 19.6% in 2006.
4. The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) which represents industrial wind producers boasts that the capacity factor at a PEI wind farm --- "sited in one of Canada’s windiest locations" – has a capacity factor of 40%.
5. Info from Firelight Infrastructure Partners, investors in the Dalhousie Mountain project from a fact sheet distributed to the media on April 23/10.
6. Figures on Dalhousie Mountain wind generation and total Nova Scotia wind generation verified by Nova Scotia Power, April 26/10.
7. See the provincial background report (link in footnote #1), page 19: The report describes natural gas as "clean and local" and adds that it is the best choice of fuel for backing up intermittent wind generators. "Although it is a fossil fuel, natural gas burns far cleaner than coal or oil. It releases less carbon, much less sulphur dioxide, fewer nitrogen oxides, and virtually no ash or particulate matter. Unlike coal fired plants, gas turbines can start up and shut down quickly to match changes in the wind and tides. Nova Scotia has substantial deposits of natural gas offshore and onshore. Its use also benefits our economy." On pages 23-24, the provincial background report discusses the possibility of importing hydro-electricity from Hydro Quebec and/or Labrador as a back up for wind. It makes it clear, however, that expensive new transmission lines would have to be built. "Unfortunately, at the moment, Nova Scotia is almost an island in terms of electricity." Nova Scotia would also have to change its rules to allow imported back-up power to be counted as part of its renewable energy targets. At the moment, power must be generated in Nova Scotia to qualify as renewable.
8. Based on a report by Peter Lang, a retired Australian engineer with 40 years experience with a variety of energy/electricity projects. In a report entitled, "Cost and Quantity of Greenhouse Gas Emssions Avoided by Wind Generation", Lang concludes that: "1. Wind power does not avoid significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. 2. Wind power is a very high cost way to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. 3. Wind power, even with high capacity penetration, can not make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
9. For details on the Tufts Cove combined-cycle system see the N.S. Power website
10. See, Nina Pierpont’s recent book "Wind Turbine Syndrome."
11. For comprehensive information on health risks and effects see: http://www.savewesternny.org/docs/pierpont_testimony.html
12. During the media scrum at Dalhousie Mountain on April 23/10, I asked Premier Dexter about possible harm to the health of rural Nova Scotians. He replied: "Well, as you know, this is something that’s been looked at through numerous peer-reviewed studies. They have not found any connection between wind farms and people’s health, but we know that those questions get raised so we’re continuing to monitor the science in relation to it and to see if there’s anything that should give rise to concern." The premier appeared to be basing his comment on a study of available scientific literature commissioned by the Canadian and American wind energy associations. It is called: "Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects." Nova Scotia Power gave me a copy in an attempt to refute claims made by Nina Pierpont and other doctors (see footnote #10).
13. For sharp criticism of the industry association report see an updated version of the paper entitled "Summary of Recent Research on Adverse Health Effects of Wind Turbines."
14. Allison Denning, regional environmental assessment coordinator at the federal health department sent a letter to the provincial environment department on August 6, 2009 formally objecting to a statement made by proponents of the Digby Wind Power Project. Denning writes: "The final sentence in Appendix B states that ‘there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health’. In fact, there are peer reviewed scientific articles indicating that wind turbines may have an adverse impact on human health." Denning then lists eight such studies.
15. I had two conversations with Ward and Mae Brubacher. One by phone on March 1, 2010 and the second in person when I visited them after the NDP Dalhousie Mountain announcement on April 23/10. I played them Darrell Dexter’s comment denying any health effects and they mentioned having discussed their noise problems with him during a meeting organized by their neighbour. Other selected quotes: Ward: "Some days it’s so noisy we have to come in the house, shut all the windows and doors and turn on the TV." Mae notes that thankfully there are days when the wind doesn’t blow very hard and peace and quiet returns: "When it goes on all day, it creates a lot of stress. If this were to go on all the time, we’d have to move." Ward: "It’s definitely a better way to generate electricity, but there’s another side to this. These big wind farms are in our faces, disrupting the natural landscape. Sure they are a marvel to look at. But if they’re in your view all day that’s a sacrifice as well." The Brubachers operate a small business that helps rural property and woodlot owners create their own nature trails and recreational facilities. The two .8 MW wind turbines near them are owned and operated by Shear Wind Inc., a company based in Bedford, N.S. For the Brubacher’s blog, see here.(To top)
For the original Coast article go here.
The Chronicle Herald, January 16, 2010
By Ralph Surette
Big wind farms in financial or deadline trouble, sometimes being bailed out by Nova Scotia Power, are almost daily fare on the business pages these days. Like much of the rest of the world, we've cast wind as the saviour in our quest for green energy. Here's stuff we should know while we still have time to reset our options.
In Spain, Italy, the U.S. and elsewhere, big wind power scams have erupted, the result of hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies being pumped into wind with little control. Some politicians and entrepreneurs are already in jail.
"It's the same mentality as a Texas oil strike," a crusading lawyer in the Spanish Canary Islands, chasing down a major scandal, told the New York Times a few weeks ago. "This is a gold rush, and everybody wants a wind park at whatever price."
Plus, there are questions about whether big wind is doing what it's supposed to do -- reduce carbon emissions. Spain's carbon emissions have gone up dramatically (30 per cent over the last 10 years) despite being one of the world's leading wind power countries. Major analyses have questioned to what extent wind has contributed to Demark and Germany's relatively better carbon performances.
And there are battles against wind farms wherever people are too close, and health and property values are at stake. A defining study entitled "Wind Turbine Syndrome" has been written by a Dr. Nina Pierpont of New York, as the scientific literature mounts on the problematic effects of noise and subsonic waves. Denials and cover-ups are increasingly reported. Recently there was an uproar in Britain as the government was caught doctoring a report on decibel levels at wind farms.
In Nova Scotia, there's citizen opposition in places too, notably at Digby Neck and back of Bailey's Brook on the hill range between New Glasgow and Antigonish, where the complaint is that citizen participation has been shunted aside. This project, called Glen Dhu, to be built by Shear Wind Inc. of Bedford (recently bailed out by a Spanish billionaire who took a big chunk of the company) promoted the project as being two kilometres away from the nearest homes, upped that to three kilometres, but when the application was filed, according to the citizen group opposing the project, it was 640 metres. And the number of turbines started as between 30 and 60, but rose to 130.
The group, the Eco Awareness Society, also filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Environment Department accusing Shear Wind of providing false or misleading information, mainly on noise effects, in its environmental assessment application. The Environment Department investigated and found no offence.
There is a risk that when the big policy rig is rolling with tens of millions of dollars aboard, the small stuff, including truth and transparency, gets flattened. That's the time to ask questions about where the contraption is going.
The issue isn't the value of wind power as such. It's part of the solution. It's just that, as with ethanol or biomass, any idea that sounds good goes to extremes immediately on the fantasy that these alternatives can replace existing energy sources seamlessly and we won't have to change our ways.
Neal Livingston of Mabou, who has been struggling to make it in the alternate energy field for 30 years -- and just got a contract with Nova Scotia Power for a six megawatt project involving three to four turbines -- says it might not be a bad thing if some of these huge wind projects collapsed.
Since the energy issue is not just that, but also an issue of economics and what kind of society we want for the future as conventional energy gets squeezed, it might inject some realism into the policy picture.
What we need, he says, are community-sized wind projects, owned by local people, that are part of a mix of solar, conservation and others -- and the policies to make that happen. "The problems with wind you've described to me are mostly problems with big capitalism."
Meanwhile, Bill Phillips, a retired electrical engineer with NSP and its predecessors, phoned to thank me for suggesting we connect to Hydro-Quebec to sidestep our big wind policy muddle, as I did last week.
Wind, he said, "has a place, but not as significant a place as it's made out to be." But it was "as an NSPI investor" that he was really bothered. The utility was spending "$100 million on Nuttby Mountain alone" -- a wind farm it took over from a failed private operator.
Indeed, along with citizen protests, fraud, a subsidy-driven bubble and so on, we have the question of how much big wind is going to cost and who's going to pay if it doesn't add up. (To top)
Original title: Environment Ignored
New Glasgow News, November 14, 2009
By Susan Overmyer
Media Relations, Eco Awareness Society
Shear Wind Inc. has finally made a public announcement about the true size of their Glen Dhu wind power plant. Phase 1 and 2 combined would see as many as 100 turbines spread over 10,000 acres. However the cumulative impacts of both phases were never considered by the Department of Environment despite the fact that government reviewers pointed out this requirement.
Shear Wind’s own Vascular Plant Study revealed that 5 wind turbines in phase 1 were located entirely within old growth forest of heritage value and should be relocated, yet the Department of Environment never required it.
Shear Wind’s Avian Study pointed out that Bald Eagles are “of particular concern” and that “serious consideration should be given to setting back wind turbines from steeply-inclined ridges where updrafts are most conducive for soaring…” Instead, Shear Wind moved the turbines from the highlands to the scarp face and with the Department of Environment’s approval of this project they have essentially granted Shear Wind a permit to violate both provincial and federal law, allowing them to kill and injure Bald Eagles.
Shear Wind’s bat study was conducted 8 kilometres south of the project site with Anabat II detectors deployed at ground level. Two detectors were deployed for one week, with one detector vandalized the day it was deployed. No real mortality predictions could be made for this project from this study, yet the Department of Environment never required a new bat study.
Lord David Howell, former Secretary of State for Energy in Margaret Thatcher’s government stated, “Extensive wind farm developments will be seen in due course to have taken public opinion for a colossal ride.” It would appear that the Department of Environment, in turning a blind eye to their own responsibilities under the Nova Scotia Environment Act and the Species at Risk Act, are taking Nova Scotian’s on that colossal ride. (To top)