I Do NOT Represent the Wind Industry

By Cam Mather

A couple of Sundays ago I spoke to the “Transition Cornwall” group. There was a good turn out and it’s a great group with lots of great activities. They are very much committed to increasing resilience in their community. Resilience to peak oil, climate change and economic collapse. Oh sure, it’s a fun group!

Actually they were really a fun group with lots of good things happening. I tried to shift the theme of my talk a bit since my “Thriving During Challenging Times” presentation is more focused on personal resilience. Instead I took the approach that they have this incredible group of individuals trying to draw attention to these potential challenges and prepare the community for their impacts. The reality though, is that if the members of the group aren’t personally prepared they won’t be of much use to everyone else when they’re really needed. And I do sincerely believe this.

There were some great questions and comments afterwards.

One person suggested that I was basically discussing the concept of “The Titanic,” a movie that I finally recently watched thanks to my daughter Katie. If the heat wave in March taught us anything, it’s that one of the potential shocks to the system, climate change, is happening in a big way and it’s going to make food production more problematic. Throw in the high price of gas during a period of questionable economic health indicating that we’ve hit “peak oil,” and you’ve got a bit of a mess. So as this person pointed out after hearing my talk, we’ve probably hit an iceberg and his question was, “Which class of passenger are you?”

I am certainly not a first class passenger. Financially I am in the ‘steerage’ class. But from a preparation standpoint, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, not only did I bring my own life jacket with me, I brought my own lifeboat and I was kind of already in it when we hit the “iceberg.” And I’m pretty comfortable if others on the ship are surprised by the impact or the impact on them. The writing is on the wall. You can read it and respond to it, or you can hope you won’t have to deal with it. The problem with reality is that it has a way of affecting you regardless of whether you pay attention to it or not.

I also discussed the “ice storm” scenario with this group, since when the ice storm hit in 1998 leaving millions without power for weeks, they were right in the heart of the affected area. I asked how many who had been without power for a week or more had bought a generator, and not very many hands went up. As I’ve noticed in the past with similar groups, there seems to be an inertia where you convince yourself after an event that the likelihood of it happening again is remote, even if the opposite is the case. I’ll never understand this.

A gentleman who stood up to thank me for my presentation talked about his experience with the ice storm, and how a street full of neighbors who had previously barely spoken to each other, suddenly had a real sense of community. “We knew who had water and who had heat and who had food and so we worked as a team.” After the ice storm was over, they all went back to their TV sets and didn’t really talk much. I’m thinking his participation in the Transition movement is likely to provide him with a more permanent network of like-minded people to be proactive with.

And then there was the elderly gentleman who slept through my entire presentation. No really … he was gone before my first slide. After the presentation a number of people came up to ask questions and even in his declining years he managed to burst through and be the first person in the line. But he didn’t have a question. He was just there to vent about wind turbines, which are becoming more common in the Province of Ontario because of the Green Energy Act. I did not talk about wind turbines in my presentation, except a brief mention of my own small unit, and I did not endorse or in any way suggest that I was there to represent the Province of Ontario and its Green Energy Act. But as often happens when I do these kinds of talks, I become the target.

I’m the target because people in my province seem to really hate solar and wind power. With a passion. Why? Because… they are causing our electricity bills to go up (WRONG) and because they use so many resources to make (versus a nuclear plant?) and because they are ugly (compared to the massive power corridors with high voltage lines running throughout the province?) and of course, because they kill birds.

So I explained to him that the bird kill numbers are blown way out of proportion because the original wind farms had too many turbines and latticework towers that birds loved to roost on. If you were a bird today, where could you possibly sit on a wind turbine? The towers are round and smooth. But alas, he and so many others are convinced that they are killing birds by the millions. It was apparent to me that I was not going to win this argument so I finally concurred with the gentleman and suggested he take it up with his provincial member of parliament. And I tried to take another question. But he persisted.

I was being paid to be there so I was trying to be professional but he wouldn’t give up … even though HE HAD SLEPT THROUGH MY ENTIRE PRESENTATION AND HADN’T HEARD A WORD I’D SAID! So I suggested to him that there are numerous studies that show every songbird in North America is in decline because of climate change, so if I were a bird, I’d rather take my chances with a wind turbine. He wasn’t listening. I mentioned how the Lennox Generating station near me uses crude oil to produce electricity and how one night its two massive smoke stacks had killed 10,000 migrating birds. Was he angry about that? Nope, he just wanted to complain about the wind turbines.

So then I asked him, “what about those skyscrapers in the big cities that kill birds every night?” Nope, he wasn’t concerned about that, and he suggested that the ground around my wind turbine was probably littered with carcasses of dead birds. I told him, quite honestly, that I have never seen a dead bird anywhere around my wind turbine, but that I often find them after they have flown into the windows of my guesthouse. It breaks my heart, but hey, it’s a building … “warning birds stay away!”

Apparently his windows never kill birds. So I asked him if he had a cat, because our cats kill birds. “So you have a cat? And it kills birds?” So perhaps we should ban cats. Really, because if they kill birds they have no place in our world.

I tried to end my exchange with him at that point and go on to take other questions, but he came back a number of times to make new points about how bad wind turbines are. I felt kind of bad because I got close to losing my cool, but some people push my buttons and it was even more insulting that he attempted to dominate the conversation after sleeping through the presentation, which really had nothing to do with wind farms. I’m going to have a strategy next time and even though he’s my elder and deserving of my respect, if he thinks I owe him an explanation for something I wasn’t there to discuss, I’m going to shut people like him down early, and move on much sooner.

I had a super afternoon with a great bunch of people. I wish I were able to deal with the hecklers in the crowd better. Like the one bad apple in the barrel, people like him have a tendency to sour an otherwise wonderful experience.

eureka-we-have-wind-small

9 Responses to “I Do NOT Represent the Wind Industry”

  • John:

    I do not understand the upset some people are feeling about the solar FIT program. Any person whom wanted to invest in solar was welcome to apply. Yes, I agree the amount of 80 cents per k.w.h. seems high, however, this I believe is to encourage people to think about the future and our ridiculous consumption of hydro. I have a FIT solar system on my roof and I am much more aware of my hydro consumption and believe I am much better now at not wasting hydro. When I get even better at consuming less hydro I would like to drop my FIT program and go off grid. I think the our government should consider a program for personal wind generation instead of giving large companies grants for the large wind farms. I get very excited watching how much power I can produce from that wonderful sunshine. Sometimes it is difficult for people to understand how badly we need to change from coal powered plants and nuclear power. Just look at what happened in Japan.

  • Jeff:

    As a college instructor, I get the same response from some of my students. I feel your pain – it’s frustrating. However, also as a ham radio operator, I’m jealous of your turbine tower. You could easily put a small antenna on the top of it without interfering with the turbine itself.

    Have you ever thought about ham radio? My setup is completely on solar/battery power for emergencies, and I’ve actually used it as such when power goes out here in Arizona. Great way to prepare for TEOTWAWKI.

  • Cathy:

    When you take a nap, does your wife consider it rude? Or are you just checking for pin holes in your eye lids? And I bet you hear every word she said. Your ears don’t stop working while you sleep. Your brain is more receptive with passive retention of information while sleeping or under hypnosis. The old man wasn’t a heckler if he was alsleep.

    You have been working on changing your core values and beliefs, and those of others, for how many years? Some people are affraid of change, no matter if you thing it is for the good of all or not. Some people get stuck on one mindset and can’t see the forest for the birds, they love, in the trees.

  • Jeff Marchand:

    I think the reason many people in Ontario dislike solar and wind power is that the MicroFIT program is too one sided in favour of the producers. It is unreasonable that Ontario Hydro must buy electricity at 80 cents a kilowatt (the wholesale price electricty is currently 1.7 cents per Kwh) than when the sun is shinning even if Sunday morning and we have a surplus of power already. We have had to pay millions of dollars to neighbouring jurisdictions to take our surplus power.

    I am personnaly conflicted when I see all the solar installations popping up I like that electricity is being produced without burning fossil fuels but as a taxpayer and a Ontario Hydro customer I feel I am being taken advantage of.

    If I had been setting up the FIT program I would have required all producers to have batteries to store electricty when Ontario Hydro does nt need it for when it does. Just like an off grid house like yours. I know batteries are expensive but at over 40 times the going rate (80 cents per Kwh vs 1.7 Kwh) MicroFit they are nt excatly giving their juice away and could pay the added expense.

  • Gerrit Botha:

    I wonder if people hate wind and solar because of the reality it represents, with which they don’t want to deal. If they can hate wind/solar out of existence, then global warming and peak oil won’t happen. What was this fellow doing in a Transition group, one which presumably would be all in favour of wind/solar? You gave him numerous counterpoints and he wouldn’t listen to one of them. I think you’re right; next time just shut such a person down early and move on.

  • Hi Paul! We put it up in September of 2007. You can read about it here; http://aztext.com/blog/index.cfm?a=showone&EID=16

  • Neil:

    Here in my part of rural Ontario (as in others, I’m sure) there is broad concern (fear?) about industrial-scale wind generation. All over you see “stop the turbines” signs and a few weeks ago there was to be a large protest in Port Elgin… but it was cancelled, ironically, due to a windstorm forecast for that evening. Those against have all kinds of arguments: health, cost, aesthetics, bird/bat kill, and so on. They are all irrational because, though I don’t know all the facts, I do know they’ve been using large-scale turbines in Europe for 25 years or more so you would think any long-term detrimental effects would be known. I do think that part of the issue is that rural folk (I am generalizing) do seem averse to the government telling them what to do or affecting their land use. Interesting that didn’t seem to stop them from installing solar on their properties to benefit from the MicroFIT program… solar array pedestals are about as plentiful as the Stop-the-Turbine signs.

  • Paul Bailey:

    Ps. when did you switch to the Bergey ??

  • Paul Bailey:

    Good job Cam.. Obviously a man of great tolerance and patiance. talk about a great distraction to your speaking skills. Bird kills in Toronto buildings hit the Star today at this link
    http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1156281–building-draws-birds-to-their-death-trial-told?bn=1

    Paul

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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