Ontario wind war widens
By Jonathan Sher, John Miner, The London Free Press
Lawsuits are the new front in the fight to stop wind turbines
The war over Ontario wind turbines is shifting to the courts, with property values brandished as the main weapon by opponents of the multi-billion-dollar provincial push to develop wind farms.
Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie said he has lawsuits in the works from 10 different parts of Ontario and is in talks with at least three other groups in its southwest.
“That number is growing quite rapidly,” Gillespie said Thursday.
“Currently, we have either filed claims or are about to file claims that go all the way from Windsor to Ottawa.”
Lawsuits have already been launched in Chatham-Kent, LaSalle, Prince Edward County, Clearview/Creemore and the Stayner area.
Another lawsuit is in the works involving wind turbines in the Port Dover area.
“Property devaluation is clearly becoming a major concern right across Ontario,” said Gillespie.
The shift to fighting in the courts follows a failed campaign by anti-wind forces in last year’s Ontario’s election — the McGuinty Liberals eked out a minority government, despite losing rural seats where opposition is strongest — to stop wind-turbine development.
Southwestern Ontario, home to Ontario’s largest wind projects, is one of the key battlegrounds.
While wind opponents helped to defeat key Liberal candidates, including environment minister John Wilkinson in Perth-Wellington and agriculture minister Carol Mitchell in Huron-Bruce, they fell short of their ultimate goal — to bring down the McGuinty government.
The new legal strategy is one that pits rural landowner against rural landowner.
The lawsuits not only seek millions of dollars in damages from the large corporate wind farm developers who have deep pockets to fight legal battles, but also from the farm owners who have leased out their land for the turbines.
The legal action against individual farmers could create a chill for landowners considering wind turbines on their property, said Gary Zavitz, a London-area wind energy advocate and co-founder of the pro-wind group Friends of Wind Ontario,
How deep that chill goes will largely depend on the early outcome of the legal cases, said Zavitz, noting wind opponents have had little litigation success so far.
“There is definitely some concern about that,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of stakeholders in this that are patiently waiting to see if their project gets approved.”
Most landowners want to do the right thing, he said.
“They want to do what is right for the environment and sustainability. They also want to get an additional stream of revenue for their land and they want to be a good neighbour.”
The assertion that wind turbines lower property values is hotly contested.
A recent study by London appraiser Ben Lansink, who’s provided evaluations for turbine opponents, found land values near turbines in the Shelburne and Norfolk County area fell by as much as 58% and averaged more than 30%.
That study, which traced the sale of individual properties, has been dismissed by Friends of Wind Ontario and Ontario Highlands Friends of Wind Power.
“While he may turn up some isolated examples of property devaluation, Lansink has failed to show that wind turbines have widespread negative impact on property values,” said an analysis of Lansink’s study released by Friends of Wind Power.
It may take a judge and jury to finally decide the issue.
LAWSUITS — THE NEW FRONT:
— Some owners argue turbines have cut their property values or made them impossible to sell.
— They want damages from wind farm developers and landowners with turbines.
— Turbine proponents reject the reduced property value argument.
BIG WIND IN ONTARIO
Ontario is now Canada’s largest wind-energy producer, with 2,020 megawatts of capacity. How it got there:
2003: Province had 10 wind turbines.
2012: 1,200 turbines.
More: Another 1,000 given early approval.
Future: Estimates of 6,500, with all proposals and plans.
–John Miner, The London Free Press