Ontario currently leads the country in wind power capacity—and some southern Ontario communities are none too pleased by this development. There is a belief among some people who reside in close proximity to wind farms that the turbines are causing health problems and driving down real estate prices. The issue of property devaluation was recently brought to the province’s Superior Court of Justice, the result of a 2011 lawsuit launched by John and Sylvia Wiggins of Simcoe County against WPD Canada Corporation, a Mississauga-based wind power company.

Trouble began when WPD began seeking environmental approval for the construction of the Fairview Wind Project, an eight-turbine system with an 18.4 MW maximum capacity to be raised in Clearview Township. According to the Wigginses, the announcement of the project drove down the value of their 48-acre horse farm significantly. By April 2012, 15 other Clearview landowners had joined the Wiggins’ case with similar complaints, while a further five had launched a separate suit. The value of the two claims exceeds $17 million. The Wiggins lawsuit also includes, as defendants, two area farmers who have agreed to host the turbines.

A year later, on April 22, 2013, Justice S.E. Healey issued a summary judgement dismissing the landowners’ claims. She stated that that the plaintiffs were unable to “prove that they have been wronged by the defendants,” in part because the project had not yet been approved by the Ministry of the Environment. At WPD’s request, Healey had accepted the plaintiffs’ evidence into the record without challenge in order to establish whether there were legal grounds for the claims.

The plaintiffs

Despite the dismissal of the claims, some anti-wind power advocacy groups have taken solace in the court’s decision, and in Healey’s post-decision statement. Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO), an anti-wind advocacy group, has stated via press release that “the judge accepts unreservedly that property value is lost for neighbours of these power projects based on the evidence.” Jane Wilson, WCO’s president, believes the court’s decision has given hope to others who might be affected by the construction of wind power projects. “The court accepted,” she said, “that property values near wind power projects can drop by as much as 22 to 50 per cent. People are not going to just sit and let that happen to the biggest investments in their lives: their homes. Before now, to sue for a nuisance you had to wait until it was already constructed, but then the damage is already done. In this case, the court is accepting that property values may be affected at the time of approval.”

Cunningham and Gillespie LLP, the firm representing the plaintiffs, also issued a press release lauding the judge’s statement. Eric Gillespie called the ruling “a major step forward for people with concerns about industrial wind projects across Ontario. […] Dozens of plaintiffs who have already started actions appear to have had the right to bring claims validated. We can definitely expect more claims now that this door has been opened.”

The defendants

But despite the optimism shown by the plaintiffs and anti-wind advocates, there are those people who suggest the ruling has been mischaracterized. Benjamin Thibault, legal and policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, disagrees with claims the ruling holds any weight for future cases. “For the purpose of the decision,” he explains, “the judge looked only to the plaintiffs’ evidence, in order to test if they could ever win even on their version of facts. What the plaintiffs’ lawyers have said about the decision is true to the extent that she accepted their evidence for the purposes of this mental exercise, but saying that she ‘accepted the evidence’ takes it out of context and spins the decision as a victory for them. This case can be used as precedent only if someone brought forward another action at the same stage. Any claims that this can act as legal precedent for future cases at later stages of wind projects are patently wrong.”

WPD Canada president Ian MacRae expressed a similar point of view in a company press release. “The judge simply accepted into the record, as unchallenged, the unproven evidence submitted by the plaintiffs,” he said. “This evidence is not proof of the plaintiffs’ claims, and the decision does not suggest this.” The release also declared that the company would have challenged the evidence had the case proceeded to trial. “The fact is the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is not currently altering property assessments in Ontario as a result of wind energy projects,” added Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. “As a responsible industry, we continue to communicate with the Ontario Real Estate Association and MPAC to ensure we are reviewing all new and credible information on the important subject of property values.”

Wiggins v. WPD Corporation Canada is far from the only legal dispute involving wind power companies in Ontario. “There are other claims ongoing,” WCO’s Wilson says. “This is simply the first in the queue.”

With the wind power industry gaining steam, is there any way to resolve the tension between companies and municipalities? “There’s no silver bullet for solving this problem,” says energy consultant Stu Campana. “You lose efficiency as you move further away from urban centres, so it’s ideal to have the turbines as close by as possible. But the closer you get, the more backyards you’re going to hit. Including municipalities and allowing local stakeholders to have more of a say in projects is part of a larger solution. Part of the equation is education. The other is showing residents where the economic benefits lie. In the Netherlands, a study found that health complaints relating to turbines decreased substantially when people had an economic incentive to want them around.

“In other words, you’re unlikely to be bothered by a wind turbine if you’re getting something out of it.”

 

Clark Kingsbury is an editorial assistant at ReNew Canada.

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this story. I repeat my comment that Ontario property owners are not going to stand by idly and watch the value of their property plummet because greedy neighbours and subsidy-seeking corporations have jumped onto the transitory wind power fad. The comment by Stu Campana that health effects disappear if people are getting “something out of it” is egregious and does not stand up to the fact that many Ontario homeowners have had to walk away from their homes–often after decades of ownership–because they simply can’t live there anymore. Something has to be done to mitigate and prevent this financial and environmental health disaster.
    Jane Wilson
    Wind Concerns Ontario

  2. Problem is, the Turbines are NOT near urban centres; in fact, urban centres do not want them anywhere close. Sadly, you overlook the fact that this technology is dying, and almost dead in Europe.

  3. At long last this battle is moving into our courts where, independent from government and Big Wind Money, citizens will seek justice and democracy. Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will have more influence in our court system than it has had in our Legislature. Finally, Justice will prevail.

  4. Just yesterday someone said wished they could buy my house. I mentioned the future Samsung wind operation. That changed everything.

  5. We need to move forward from buggy whips. Wind energy is now considered obsolete for meeting current and future needs. It is NOT green, and does nothing to reduce green house gases. Europe is fast turning away from the green fantasies and embracing reliable and cost effective energy measures. Wake up, Ontario. Wind only produces less than 1/2 of one percent of the world’s power with 225,000 turbines. Hardly efficient. Actually, ridiculous.

  6. The Bruce Peninsula is a high volumn tourist area. Not only are the locals split on the turbine issue, so are the visitors. As an artist, I do NOT want industrial wind farms here (or anywhere else!!!) but a lot of visitors say they will not buy here if the insanity continues and they are built. Property values can not help but suffer.

  7. “In the Netherlands, a study found that health complaints relating to turbines decreased substantially when people had an economic incentive to want them around.”

    Because some (maybe all, the study doesn’t say) of them can turn the turbines off when they get too noisy, a choice Ontario neighbors don’t have. It’s people like Stu who are mischaracterizing things, and Clark isn’t diligent enough to spot it.

  8. Theorize all you want, we have not been able to sell our farm that has been on the market for over 5 years thanks to the Cruickshank 5 Turbine project behind it.

  9. Mr. Kingsbury…your article is quite accurate as far as the legal technicalities however the last 2 paragraphs are typical of most news items about wind turbine solutions. You quote an energy consultant who is going to educate the victims of turbines and show how they will benefit from them…really? Turbines cost more than they are worth daily. Fact. Also he quotes situations in the Netherlands again! This is Canada with bigger, faster turbines that can’t be compared. Please don’t insult us with the typical closing comment quote about getting something out of it…most rural residents chose not to change the environment and/or harm their neighbours for the almighty dollar!

  10. Yes, we would be much more un-likely to be “bothered by…” the industrial wind turbines that spin in our space if we were ALL getting something out of it, but so far, all we have to report is nausea, shadow flicker effect and nuisance noise.

    We are also wondering if the power output is even credible…

    Time for MPAC to cut ties with CanWEA and lower property values (thus reducing property
    taxes) for those forced to reside among these spinning monstrosities !!

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