South Canoe wind project neighbours complain of property value drop
Expert on renewable energy at Dalhousie University thinks they have little to be concerned about
While disgruntled cottage owners near the new wind farm at South Canoe are upset by the way their view has been altered and about a possible drop in property values, an expert on renewable energy at Dalhousie University thinks they have little to be concerned about.
Lukas Swan, who's an assistant professor in the faculty of mechanical engineering at Dalhousie University, says expert panels in the United States and Canada have soundly disproved the belief that wind farms harm your health or cause a drop in property values.
But people who are peeved about the project says those aren't the only reasons they're not thrilled with the opening of the South Canoe wind energy project, near New Ross.
Dan Flinn is a retired junior high school teacher who has a summer cottage on nearby Long Lake. He told CBC Radio's Mainstreet that at first, many cottage owners were enthusiastic about it.
"We were keen on the idea -- green energy -- getting off fossil fuels." But Flinn says, "information came in very slowly and the more we learned about the project, the more concerned we became, mostly because of the size of the project."
Flinn says people became suspicious because when cottage owners tried to get straight answers from the proponents, all they got was spin.
"Every time we asked a question, it was sort of skirted," he said.
That's when people who had questions about the project formed a group called Friends of South Canoe Lake.
Flinn says the group is not necessarily against wind farms, but members came together because information wasn't being released in a timely fashion by the company.
Flinn says when residents called them on it, confidentiality was used an excuse.
"They had a liaison committee which was made up of all the stakeholders -- Emera and all the various corporations that were involved in the community," he said.
"And when we went to these meetings, they were basically talking about public relations. You know, working with the schools and what logo would they paint on them [the turbines] and these types of things. We really wanted to look at the various studies that had been done -- the infra-sound issue, the migration of birds, the impact on our property values."
"And things were just skirted or moved aside. And in the end, I just stopped attending the liaison committee because it seemed to be more like a group of cheerleaders."
Flinn says some cottage owners also question the effect the 34 turbines will have on people's health.
"There's some concerns with health effects, with the sounds that they give out. And, of course, they're all lit up at night."
While Flinn doesn't have proof that property values have dropped, he says, "I know that there were some people that were looking at purchasing a property next to people that own a horse farm."
"There were two people that were interested. One was from Calgary and one was from Europe. And both parties, when they heard in the disclosure that there was going to be a wind farm in there, they both immediately said they weren't interested -- walked away from it. And the property still sits there, as far as I understand it, it's still not sold," he said.
Couple cancelled contractor
Flinn says another couple who had plans to build a cottage on Lewis Lake cancelled the contractor and put the property up for sale after they found out about the South Canoe project.
Lukas Swan thinks the project will have more positive effects than negative ones. He's also pleased the province has met its goal of getting 25 per cent of its electricity from a renewable resource by 2015.
"I believe we're right about there on that target. And we certainly will with South Canoe coming on in the very recent days. So I think that was a goal set out back in 2010 and we've actually met that objective. I think Nova Scotians can be really proud that we're making a transition in our electricity sector right now and that transition is going to continue for the foreseeable future up to 2020 with the 40 per cent goal," he said.
Swan thinks there's a high likelihood the province will meet its goal in five years time.
"I think that's kind of neat that we've grown and matured over the years and are building bigger windfields that generate more energy and you get economies of scale that come with that."
Swan says the wind sector in Nova Scotia is definitely growing and he feels we're in the ideal spot to take advantage of the wind.
"There's probably 50-plus individual wind sites many of which consist of single wind turbines. There's a dozen or a few more of large wind energy generating facilities of which South Canoe is one."
Swan says research in this field disproves the thinking that wind farms lower property values.
"People's principal concerns are, I believe, with esthetics -- they have to look at them .... That being said property values and sound are major items," he said.
"To date there's probably been about a dozen of these studies done worldwide in the health sector and maybe a half a dozen of these studies done for property values. And to summarize them in short, the health ones have found that there's no causal link of health issues … but there's an annoyance issue."
"With respect to property values, there's a really interesting study out of the U.S. ... And what they found was right when a facility would get announced, and before anyone had experience with it, that property values could decrease," he said.
"But what they found was about a year or two years after the facility was installed that prices rebounded right back to where they were and there was no distinguishable difference and this was over 50,000 houses that were surveyed."
Swan says he understands some people's concern over a lack of information while a project is in the works, but he says it's not as cut and dried as people might think.
"Situations arise. Designs change. And so, you have to be cognizant that you don't want to tell everybody that this is how it's going to be right at the beginning and then later come back and say, 'Oh, now it's like this.' Because people would be very uncomfortable with that," Swan explained.
"On the other hand you could say, 'Well, don't tell them anything until the very end.' But people are not willing to accept that. I don't think anyone thinks that's a good idea. So you run some middle ground there where you try to tell them the things you're sure of. You try to give them as much information as you can up at the front."
Swan wants people to know that he has a stake in a wind project but not the South Canoe project.
"I'm involved in the Spiddle Hill project. It's owned by Colchester Cumberland Windfield. It's just north of the Cobequid Mountains," he said. "To date, I've been delighted with the performance of the field. It generates a lot of renewable electricity for the province."
Swan is an engineer and is also a director of the company. "I'm basically hands-off on the company almost entirely. I just watch in the background."