Findings

Critical Cats:

Hallie, Richard, Kate, Caitlin, Aliza, Nick, Hugo, Jodie (host), Negin, Laura, Peter, Brent, Phil, Michael, Jamie, Aria, Jo

Words from the host:

For the first few weeks of October, I casually let it drop to friends and acquaintances that I was going to be hosting a salon, 18th century-styles—and that, naturally, we were going to be discussing the pros and cons of wind energy. The announcement was met by a variety of reactions, from confusion to amusement to blatant indifference, plus the odd crack about hair dyeing.  Still, the fact that Jo and I were able to successfully rustle up twentyish smart, articulate and engaged friends and acquaintances, who were more than happy to squeeze into my tiny living room and chat about wind on a chilly Thursday night, is testament to the seriously cool and delightfully dorky network of people we’re connected to. As we got started, any fears I’d had about the gathering being intimidating or pretentious were instantly allayed. No one in attendance was an expert on wind or alternative energy and no one claimed to be. We humbly addressed the conflicting elements of the complex wind issue as best we could, discussing the potential urban-rural divide, possible health risks, energy politicization and climate change, using readings Jo had put up on her blog. Ultimately, the discussion reached no clear consensus, but as Voltaire once mused, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Also, Jo baked a cookie in the shape of a windmill. Just saying.

The Findings:

The following is a summary of the conversation at the Salon. The intention of the ‘findings’ is to offer a foundation upon which others can begin a conversation on wind energy. This is where the experiment begins, what will a second set of ears and eyes bring to these ideas and questions?

* * *

The group concluded that people across the province of Ontario hold strong opinions on how wind turbines fit (or don’t fit) into the rural landscape.  Beauty is, as we know, in the eye of the beholder.  Those attached to the rolling countryside of centuries past, may not be open to one dotted with giant-sized spinning machines. The group wondered whether it was possible to influence these perspectives in favor of pragmatic solutions and compromise.

Our conversation also discussed the influence that wind turbines have on property values. A threat to one’s personal land value has a significant impact on the acceptance of turbines. Is there a way to secure or compensate for lost property values incurred by the development of wind turbines? Ideas such as tax breaks or reduced energy rates were suggested as strategies to manage this challenge. Some asked whether turbines should even be built in places with high land value.

The participants discussed the idea that a rural resident’s noise tolerance is far less than that of an urban dweller. That being said, is there a way to bring wind turbines into the city where they would be less bothersome? What about concentrating wind farms in areas with no people? Are there places in which this is possible?

The cost effectiveness of wind energy was also cited as a significant problem. Governments are paying premiums to incentive production, despite the low rates of return. How can this be improved, just what would it take to make wind financially viable? Could technologically enhancements reduce noise pollution and improve the cost effectiveness of production?

An equally important concept is the idea of conservation. It is cheaper to save a kilowatt of energy than to create a kilowatt. Salon goers suggested that conservation and efficient grids are essential for the progress of renewable energy and wind power.

We now pass the torch to you. What do you think of these insights? Do you have the answers to our questions? Would you like to host your own Salon on wind energy? Leave a comment and let us know.

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5 Responses to Findings

  1. Stephen Kwa says:

    Sorry I missed out! It sounds like a nice variety of entry points into the debate were discussed and I am intrigued by them all! My intent in my last post was to plant some curiosity into the newest wind technologies that could alleviate the concerns around cost effectiveness, noise, landscape, etc. and of course, the other variable of the energy equation: usage and the conservation of it. One idea that I think is brilliant is the idea of selling energy back to the grid (i.e. excess energy produced by private citizens who use/install renewable technologies themselves). If the technology becomes more affordable and the size of these installations become more for personal use, it could evoke a radical change in how energy is distributed (i.e. see the trend in nuclear to build smaller, more safe and efficient reactors to service smaller communities Vs. massive reactors that serve huge portions of the grid). Wind technology may not need “farms” with many windmills centralized in one place to service a large geographic centre – what about smaller windmills that would be scattered and service smaller neighbourhoods? Keep me in the loop, sorry for simply posting and not attending – it’s a busy time of year!

    • Jo Flatt says:

      Totally, Steve!! Yes, that is what we were talking about. Can people have their own windmills? I think the biggest issue right now is that the grid we are working with isn’t ‘smart’ enough to handle all the excess/returned energy. Incentivizing people to produce energy, alongside their consumption, would be great! I don’t know the technical details, but it seems like something worth expanding. We perceive energy as a mass thing, but what about smaller scale?

  2. Jamie says:

    Hey Folks,

    I spoke to someone I work with (Executive Researcher, Energy Policy at the Mowat Centre), and he brought up an interesting point. He mentioned that the debate over wind energy in Canada usually results in an all-or-nothing result (ie: wind turbines are either erected or the idea is scrapped entirely due to the rabid opposition of property owners). However, the success of wind energy in Denmark is, in part, owed to their acceptance of trade-offs. Denmark has devised a scheme that compensates neighboring property owners for the reduction in their property values associated with the presence of a wind turbine on another individual’s property (see link: http://www.ens.dk/en-us/supply/renewable-energy/windpower/onshore-wind-power/loss-of-value-to-real-property/sider/forside.aspx).

    It should be noted that in Canada, property owners are compensated for the construction of transmission lines, but as per the following quote, I am unsure if neighboring property owners are also compensated if their land is not expropriated. “Compensation is based on the market value of the property as determined by an appraiser. Since Hydro usually buys only part of your property, injurious affection has to be taken into account. In simple terms, injurious affection is a measure of the loss in market value to your remaining property. If the remainder has been reduced in value due to changes in size, shape, potential use or effect on buildings, this amount is added to the market value of the purchased portion in the total offer for compensation” (http://www.expropriationlaw.ca/articles/art03200_files/art03201.pdf).

    Apologies if I’m generating more questions than answers, but does anyone know if Canadian compensation schemes acknowledge “neighboring” property owners for any form of energy infrastructure? If not, could such a strategy smooth our transition to a wind energy super-power? (imagining the maple leaf replaced with a wind turbine as I write this–the Dutch’ll be pissed!).

    Just some food for thought.

    Jamie

  3. Jo Flatt says:

    Jamie, thanks for the update! No surprise that the Danes have something progressive underway. You raise a great point about the neighbours and how we deal with this in Canada. I know the property owner who erects a wind turbine is compensated, but what about the neighbours? Very interesting. I think it’s really worth probing further on this. Who would have the answers?

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