November 1st, 2012
JOHN MINER | QMI AGENCY
LONDON, ON — The war over Ontario wind turbines is shifting from the political arena to the courts, to a battle between Big Wind and landowners concerned about property values.
Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie said he has lawsuits in the works from 10 different parts of Ontario and is in talks with at least three other groups.
“Currently, we have either filed claims or are about to file claims that go all the way from Windsor to Ottawa,” Gillespie said Thursday.
“Property devaluation is clearly becoming a major concern,” Gillespie said.
Ontario is now Canada’s largest wind-energy producer, with 2,020 megawatts of capacity from 1,200 turbines. The completion of all current proposals and plans would bring the number of turbines to 6,500.
The shift to fighting in the courts follows a failed campaign by anti-wind forces in last year’s provincial election — the McGuinty Liberals eked out a minority government, despite losing rural seats where opposition is strongest — to stop wind-turbine development.
The new legal strategy is one that pits rural landowner against rural landowner.
The lawsuits not only seek millions of dollars in damages from the large corporate wind farm developers who have deep pockets to fight legal battles, but also from the farm owners who have leased out their land for the turbines.
The legal action against individual farmers could create a chill for landowners considering wind turbines on their property, said Gary Zavitz, co-founder of the pro-wind group Friends of Wind Ontario.
How deep that chill goes will largely depend on the early outcome of the legal cases, Zavitz said, noting wind opponents have had little litigation success so far.
“There is definitely some concern about that,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of stakeholders in this that are patiently waiting to see if their project gets approved.”
Most landowners want to do the right thing, he said.
“They want to do what is right for the environment and sustainability. They also want to get an additional stream of revenue for their land and they want to be a good neighbour.”
The assertion that wind turbines lower property values is hotly contested.
A recent study by local appraiser Ben Lansink, who’s provided evaluations for turbine opponents, found land values near turbines in two nearby areas fell on average more than 30% – and some by as much as 58%.
That study, which traced the sale of individual properties, has been dismissed by Friends of Wind Ontario and Ontario Highlands Friends of Wind Power.
“While he may turn up some isolated examples of property devaluation, Lansink has failed to show that wind turbines have widespread negative impact on property values,” said an analysis of Lansink’s study released by Friends of Wind Power.
It may take a judge and jury to finally decide the issue.