Canada: Misinformation Fouls The Wind Debate

Last Updated: February 15 2011
Article by Dianne Saxe

There are many heartfelt disputes about wind, and some legitimate issues on which reasonable people may differ. However, it is also true that a great deal of misinformation is being peddled. Mike Brigham, chair of the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative, wrote a letter to the Editor responding to some of the claims that were made by wind opponents during the St. Aidan's public meeting and in a subsequent letter:

He wrote:

The letter to the editor (Beach Metro Dec 14th) regarding the St. Aidan's meeting about wind turbines, like the information presented in the meeting itself, was full of incorrect information.

It seems that wind opponents can easily play fast with the facts for the sake of putting doubt in people's minds. What's more, when caught out in un-truths, the tactic is to switch to some other poorly researched statement and then the next. Here are but a few statements thrown around at the meeting with no backup information:

-The CNE wind turbine broke down three years ago and was abandoned. Wrong. When asked where this information came from, the response was 'through a friend'. It would appear that no attempt was made confirm that the "friend" was correct or any attempt to admit that the information being shared was indeed false. In fact, in fiscal 2009 the ExPlace turbine saw the highest production ever.

-No country in the world has seen a drop in coal-fired generation due to the addition of wind power. Wrong. The meeting was told that Denmark as an example where the use of coal had supposedly increased by 50% in the past 30 years, despite the addition of substantial wind power. In fact the Danish government reports that in the period between 1994 and 2007, the use of coal has declined by more than 40%. When the Danish report was presented at the meeting, again no admission of misinformation, just an attempt to switch the topic once again to the next point.

-Germany uses 30-50% more coal as a result of renewable energy. Wrong. Once again, absolutely not true. In fact Germany's use of coal-fired generation has decreased by one third between 1990 and 2006 (the most recent information publicly available).

-Electricity rates have doubled due to the addition of renewable energy. Wrong. Neither of these statements is even remotely true. Of course hydro has gone up – so has everything else. To say that the cost of electricity has doubled and link any increases in our hydro bills to renewables is ludicrous.

Readers can be forgiven for feeling dragged into a quagmire of confusing and conflicting facts on this topic. This whole mess, however, can be clarified by considering just two aspects: credibility and the need to find positive solutions.

On the topic of credibility, if one questions whether wind will be a valuable addition to our future energy supply mix, should we believe the statements made against it by Toronto Wind Action or by those who support it, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Audubon, Physicians For The Environment and Environmental Defence, just to name a few?

If one questions whether wind turbines pose significant health hazards, should we believe Toronto Wind Action or Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health who has studied the data and made a definitive statement on the topic?

Regarding the need to find positive solutions, a general observation which applies here is that it is always easier to tear down the ideas of others, than it is to develop workable solutions. In Ontario, we have some pressing realities to deal with. Our provincial government is planning to close down our coal-fired generating plants by 2014 (rightfully so, due to their enormous health and environmental impacts), and our fleet of nuclear facilities are aging and slowly falling out of service. Given the sad record of constantly huge cost overruns in building nuclear plants and the associated risks (operating and spent fuel), ratepayers are naturally concerned about continuing past mistakes. So, Ontarians are in the situation of needing to spend serious money to update our electricity system, but which generation alternatives should be pursued? Do we wish to continue to pollute the environment, injure our health and be at the mercy of constantly rising fuel costs, or shall we start down a new road and embrace energy conservation and the addition of different forms of renewable energy which have already paid huge dividends in many ways in a number of European countries?

Let's turn down the static and support Ontario's new plan for a cleaner, safer future with more jobs. The choice is clear.

Mike Brigham is the chair of the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-Operative (TREC), a non-profit community group that educates about and develops renewable energy generation projects (wind and solar). He makes his living completely outside the renewable energy field and is not supported or directed by the wind industry in any way.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Dianne Saxe
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