Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Wind Energy Meeting Silences the Public

Government-mandated wind project meetings are supposed to be about two-way communication. But no questions from the public are allowed, and the notice period is ridiculously short.

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I live in a small town. A company called Capital Power is erecting 59 wind turbines on the outskirts of my community. This is known as the Port Dover and Nanticoke Wind Project.

Earlier today, my husband drew my attention to a story in the local newspaper (accompanied by a quarter-page advertisement). The Port Dover Maple Leaf is a weekly, distributed by the postal service to subscribers every Wednesday. The edition published two days ago informs the public about a meeting associated with the above-mentioned wind project that will take place next Tuesday, February 11th.

According to the government of Ontario, the primary purpose of this meeting is the facilitation of:

two way communications between the Company and members of the public with respect to issues relating to the construction, installation, use, operation, maintenance and retirement of the Facility [bold added, see page 15 of this document]

But no genuine two-way communication appears to be taking place. A headline on the newspaper ad says the meeting is “Open to the General Public for Viewing.” The third paragraph says the meeting “is open to the general public for observation.”

In other words, the communication will be in one direction only. No questions from the floor will be permitted. The public is expected to do nothing more than sit passively. This is Capital Power’s idea of public engagement.

Oh, wait, that’s not quite true. According to the ad – which appeared in a newspaper distributed on Wednesday Feb. 5th – members of the public can seek permission to speak at this community meeting. Here’s the relevant section from the ad:

Brief depositions may be presented by members of the public. Please note that depositions will be selected at the discretion of the [committee facilitator, Capital Power, and other committee members]. To be considered for a public deposition, a written request, which must include the written deposition, must be submitted before Thursday, February 6, 2014, to the CLC Facilitator [bold and italics added].

In order for me to express an opinion as a private citizen, the chain of events would have had to look like this:

  • I needed to collect my mail from the post office on Wednesday (residents of the older part of this small town don’t get door-to-door delivery)
  • I needed to open and read my copy of the local newspaper immediately and thoroughly
  • I needed to be in a position to drop everything else I’d planned to do that day
  • I needed to pull together my thoughts, write them down, and submit them that day 

Many people, of course, work 9-5 and wouldn’t have had a chance to fetch their mail until late Wednesday. But supposing that all of the above had been possible and I had surmounted each of the above obstacles, maybe I would have been permitted to speak next week. And maybe not.

(It’s also worth noticing that it apparently hasn’t occurred to the committee that journalists might attend this public meeting and attempt to pose questions.)

In July 2012, when the government officially approved this wind farm, it said that four such meetings had to be held within a two-year period. The first took place in November 2012. The second occurred in April 2013. The one scheduled for last December was cancelled.

In other words, a year-and-a-half after the clock began ticking, only two of the four meetings have happened. The last one was 10 long months ago. That was before someone like me had any inkling of how many of these turbines were being erected, where exactly they were going, or how large they were going to be. With their 44-meter (144-foot) blades they now dominate the landscape – they’re visible from the opposite end of town, miles away.

Herb Shields, the Committee Facilitator and therefore the person to whom one must submit one’s request for permission to utter a single word at the upcoming meeting, told me by e-mail:

Regarding timing of newspaper ads, the [Community Liaison Committee] notice was booked by [the Port Dover and Nanticoke Wind Operation] staff for two editions of the Port Dover Maple Leaf.  The first publication ran January 30th [sic, it was actually the 29th].  As you are aware, the Maple Leaf is a weekly community newspaper so, the second publication took place on February 5th.

Thank you for sending your comments.

This gentleman works for a consulting firm called Stantec, and is described on its website as “an Aboriginal Relations Specialist.” That firm is being paid by Capital Power to organize and run these community meetings – meetings the government says are supposed to be about two-way communication.

Shields knows that one of these ads ran too late to be useful to any member of the public wishing to participate. He also knows that the other gave folks a mere seven days to write down and submit their thoughts (in addition to re-arranging their schedules and finding babysitters). Yet he appears supremely unconcerned by these facts.

It’s difficult not to conclude that public participation is the last thing those involved in this process actually want. Meetings in which members of the public aren’t permitted to ask questions aren’t community events – they’re dog-and-pony-shows in which what gets said is rigidly controlled.

And governments wonder why opposition to wind farms is spreading like wildfire.

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