Alberta rancher told she was not welcome in Ontario
By Lynda Hillman-Rapley, Lakeshore Advance
Traveling all the way from Alberta to tell people in Ontario about wind turbines may have been extreme and that is exactly what protesters voiced at a meeting last week.
To a full house, mostly protesters, Heidi Eijgel took a stab at explaining her experience with turbines, but the reception was less than welcoming. Dr. Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy with the Pembina Institute was also on hand to facilitate discussion and answer questions.
Eijgel lives in Pincher Creek Alberta, a stretch of farmland with a population of 3,500. In that area there are approximately 400 wind turbines, a lot of flat land and a lot of wind. She wanted to tell the people in Ontario how wonderful the turbines are that they do not affect her horses.
“Go home,” was the reaction of the people who came to the meeting at the Alhambra Hall, south of Grand Bend. Pembina rented the room for the public meeting.
While Alberta may be better known for its oil and gas resources, it is also the birthplace of wind energy in Canada. The first wind farm — in Pincher Creek, Alberta — began producing electricity in 1993, and now there are communities and landowners in southern Alberta who have almost 20 years of experience with wind turbines on their own land, and on their neighbours’ land.
Heidi Eijgel raises horses on a ranch 700 m from Summerview Wind Farm, a 70.2 MW wind power project in southern Alberta. Heidi and her husband Dave do not have an ownership stake in the wind farm, but for 10 years they have been some of the wind farm’s closest neighbours as well as some of its biggest advocates. She was not being paid to be at the meeting. Pembina paid for her trip and room.
The meeting began with commentator Greg Powell telling those in attendance the rules of respect, but was met with “We set the rules in our town. Go back to Alberta. You are not welcome and we won’t agree to your rules,” yelled by a man at the back of the room.
Many people in the audience were not giving an inch, and did not want to hear what the speakers had to say. There were 25 landowners in the gallery with the anticipation of being educated by the Alberta farmer and Pembina. One told QMI Agency he has never been so embarrassed by a group of adults who could not control their tempers. At one point the OPP was called to control the irate crowd.
During the chaos, a former educator from Exeter said he attended so he could hear what was being said and if people wanted to behave in this manner they should leave. He said the average person is “not radical and wants to hear the information.” The loud objections to the meeting did not stop so the man left.
Norma Schmidt and Jutta Splettstoesser from the Kincardine area were both in attendance, as they are at many meetings. Splettstoesser has a solar paneled roof, with fields of soybeans stretching across the Bruce County countryside and is committed to wind energy. Schmidt says wind turbines have destroyed her health and is determined to halt wind power in its tracks. She says she is living in hell and has been for three years, and she asked that Eijgel discontinue these speaking engagements.
Weis said neither Pembina nor Eijgel have a vested interest in Ontario but did want to hear the issues these people have. He said he understood there was a “debate” here and they wanted to better understand the issues. “There’s no debate here,” someone yelled from the back, “There is no democracy in Ontario.”
Weis said Pincher Creek is an ideal area for wind farms. “Have you seen our land here?” asked a man in the crowd, “Do you see any mountains? Why are you here? Did you even do research on what the issues are here?” he asked. Of Eijgel’s video presentation – they asked where the buildings were; referring to the fact there may be 60 turbines next to her home–but no other homes or buildings in the vicinity. “Not much of a comparison,” a lady shouted out.
Interrupted throughout her speech, Eijgel said this was her story, her experience. She said she wants green energy and not “gas powered anything.”
“At least if something goes wrong with the wind energy, we are “not going to die,” she said. To that the uproar was deafening as participants explained they are dying from the effects of the turbines in Ontario. People were receptive to her conviction to the land and history and that she wants to protect the native grass. She said she could not understand why the people here can’t communicate with their wind companies.
Schmidt again went to the microphone and tearfully said to Eijgel. “When you speak to groups about how wonderful wind turbines are, you are victimizing people like me. I beg you not to do this (speak to groups) again. Please stop what you are doing,” she pleaded.
People came to the microphone, to talk about neighbours who can’t live in their own homes because of health effects. “You probably came here with good intensions, but you shouldn’t be here. Listen to us when we say, there is nothing you can do for us because no one is listening. This government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us,” said a man who left in frustration.
Probably the most emotional statement came from Sarah Hornblower, a mother of seven who has three children with autism. She said there are plans to build 154 turbines around her home on Jericho Road in Lambton Shores. She says even the wind companies are saying turbines can affect people who are autistic but they will not return her calls. “What can I do as a mother,” she asked with tears running down her face, “What am I supposed to do?” She said there is no support within the school system for her children yet there is money in the province for turbines. Weis gave Sarah his business card and said he would make some calls for her.
Many thought Pembina was a think tank and that they may get some information they did not know by coming to this meeting. Others asked why the province has not had any meetings to let the people know what is going on.
Bluewater Against Turbines (BAT) chair Dave Griffith sent out a blog after the meeting stating of Eijgel that, “All she talked about were her horses, her problematic burdocks, her grassy fields and her little piece of heaven here on Earth with her pretty little pictures and videos playing in the background. What the heck was she thinking – she was about to address a crowd in a province she obviously knew nothing about – didn’t do any homework or any research – she got a free ticket here to show-off her horses and probably thought we were all out a bunch of radical NIMBYS (Not in my back yard). Well I have news for her – we are not – we are just common folk etching out a life for our families, looking for our little piece of heaven here on Earth and being dumped on by a Government and Big Wind Energy who don’t give a damn about any of us!”
From Grand Bend the Alberta farmer tour went to London where Griffith said, “No signs were allowed – no papers were allowed – we were not allowed to speak – they had a large number of young pro-wind people in the crowd shushing anyone speaking out – if you were warned more than once you would be escorted to the street by security or the police officers stationed in the auditorium.”
They were headed to speak in Chatham on Wednesday night.