Open house theatre: WPD’s farce of community consultation

[Article written by Henri Garand, Chair of APPEC.  Also published in this week’s Wellington Times.]

In the past few years wind energy development meetings have become as common as County festivals.  They’re curious entertainments, though, combining reality show with political theatre and outright farce.

A case in point is wpd Canada Corporation’s recent public meeting on its White Pines Wind Project.  The company staged an open house, with display panels, thick handouts, a video on turbine siting, and 15 representatives to field questions coming chiefly from Athol and South Marysburgh residents who will be living beside 29 industrial wind turbines.

The Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) had asked wpd to hold a genuine public meeting in which wpd would present the essential facts and then address concerns from the audience.  Instead, the company obliged the 250 attendees to wait patiently for one-on-one sessions.

The 2.5-hour open house format gave everyone nine precious minutes to learn how their lives were going to be ruined.  Confronted by the terrible noise and crowding in the PECI gym, many people gave up trying to get to wpd’s reps.  They chatted with neighbours and went home ill-informed and worried.

But those who got to ask questions were often as poorly served.  Wpd’s spokespersons came from central casting.  They were not subject experts. They were wpd’s management personnel, Stantec Consulting Ltd. employees, or Intrinsik consultants hired for the occasion.

Since many of these stock players will probably reprise their roles at wpd’s next open house (threatened for late summer), it may be worthwhile to review their qualifications and competency.

Let’s begin at the top with president Ian MacCrae.  He’s an affable but smug guy, a B. Com. grad chasing golden subsidies. One might expect him to be knowledgeable about the cost of project construction and the budget for local hiring, as well as the number of permanent operations and maintenance jobs.  But he was short on specifics even though wpd panels advertised “Job Opportunities” and touted “Community Benefits.”

Equally unhelpful was vice president Arvid Hesse, an energy engineer (a German credential from Technische Universität Berlin).  He was formerly at wpd Canada’s Bremen-based parent company, to which Ontario subsidies will flow.

Hesse speaks English well, and he told me his focus is now on wpd’s business, not project engineering. He certainly couldn’t satisfy the questioner ahead of me, who asked how shadow flicker and drainage from access roads would disrupt enjoyment of a cottage.

Wpd’s staff included Ray Currie, Manager of Business Development; Khlaire Parré, Director of Permits and Environmental Approvals; Kevin Surette, Manager of Communications; and Valerie Kitchell, process facilitator.  Parré and Kitchell disclosed, like badges of honour, their past connections with the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, one of the lobby groups for which we can thank the Green Energy Act.

These reps might know a lot about landowner contracts, government regulations, and media relations, respectively, but with the exception of Currie, they had little useful information on project details.  Their function was to promote the false image of wpd’s harmless harvesting of wind energy.

Ultimately, wpd’s technical team came down to two very young men: Paul Deol, project engineer, with a Ryerson degree in electrical engineering; and Josh Vaidhyan, a Ryerson civil engineering grad.  But both explained to me that they weren’t actually going to engage in construction.  They just reviewed technical reports and liaised with companies that did the real work.

Turning to the Stantec Consulting reps, I thought I had reached the experts.  But senior project manager Shawna Peddle identified herself as a “process person” and extolled her certificate from the International Association for Public Participation.  She never stated the objectives of the open-house process.

Along with Peddle were two environmental planners, Vince Deschamps and Mark Knight.  All were standing behind tables on which maps and aerial photographs were spread.  But the maps didn’t show property lines or all the residences, so answers about setbacks were sometimes speculative, and questions about harmful effects were deferred to other reps.

Stantec’s only other employee was Nicole Kopysh, B. Environmental Studies, the spokesperson on natural heritage.  Kopysh said her responsibility was for terrestrial species, though she had worked for Ontario Nature on the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario.  She was unfazed by the prospect of wind turbines in an IBA in spite of Ontario Nature’s (and the German government’s!) policies against such sitings.

Wpd’s last two spokespersons were from Intrinsik, an environmental and health services consultancy.  Lindsay McCallum, M. Environmental Science, said immediately she was “not an expert” on health despite standing beside a sign bearing that single word.  She referred me to Loren Knopper, Ph.D. in Biology.

Knopper wrote his dissertation on biomarkers in small mammals exposed to arsenic, and has continued this research interest.  He learned everything about wind turbines while, formerly, a Stantec consultant.

Knopper opined that annoyance would be limited to 10% of the closest residents exposed to the maximum level of turbine noise.  Apparently their suffering was an acceptable trade off for the dubious benefits of wind development. No one asked the good “doctor” whether arsenic was his prescribed therapy.

Prior to the open house APPEC requested wpd to have these experts available at the meeting:

  1. wpd senior management who can clarify company policies
  2. A medical doctor who has reviewed the scientific literature and met with Ontario wind victims
  3. A professional acoustician who has studied the impacts of wind turbine noise
  4. A real estate expert who has researched property values within and near Ontario wind projects
  5. A professional biologist or ecologist, such as from Environment Canada, who is an expert on migratory birds and who has studied the South Shore Important Bird Area.

None was in fact present excepting senior management, who deflected every question about policy by citing wpd’s compliance with Ministry of Environment regulations.

In the end those County residents who persisted in asking questions became part of a grotesque comedy.  No matter how they pressed or rephrased, real answers were never forthcoming, evasion followed evasion, the irony deepening with each ever-so-courteous reply.

Wpd’s open house was all about the farce of bureaucracy and public relations.

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Posted on March 28, 2012, in Advocacy / politics / legal, White Pines, Wind turbines. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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