Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wind beneath your wings...

City News reported today on the battle between the pro and against camps for the planned test wind turbine in Lake Ontario near the shores of Scarborough. This was not the first time I hear about such controversy. A few months back a friend of mine, who is a councilor in a municipality near Wasaga Beach, was telling me about similar lines of battle drawn in his community regarding a wind mill farm being considered in his area.

Watching footage from the Scarborough meeting I felt like being in a sinking boat with people in it arguing whether they should use sails or oars to change direction. A lot of the arguments were driven by emotion, fear of the unknown, and also ideology. Many local residents were concerned with the impact on their property values, hazard to birds, possible noise pollution etc. Proponents argued about the planet, CO2 emissions, footprint etc. Supporters were bussed from afar. What a mess!

If there is anything we should learn from the emerging World 2.0 it is that we cannot solve any issues of significance without collaboration. What would have been a much better approach for conducting such meetings would have been to do the following:

  • Listen carefully to the concerns of the local community. Allowing people to air their concerns easily makes them more willing to listen in return to other points of view.
  • Make sure the facts being used for the various arguments are correct and non-ambiguous. In the case of Scarborough reports were initially talking of wind towers of over 100 feet height. That was later explained to be the total tower height; the wind mills would be much lower over the water surface.
  • Prepare replies to the concerns that are based on facts (data) not opinions and ideology. The questions asked are legitimate and the concerns seem to be very similar in all communities where significant structures are planned to be constructed. Investing in well researched answers would provide an efficient, respectful, and constructive response to the concerns.
  • Consider the impact from alternative solutions when discussing wind mill or solar panel farms. Would residents prefer a gas power generation plant instead? A nuclear reactor? A modern coal fired plant? Without considering the alternatives we would be deciding between the environmental solution and doing nothing, which is not really an option.
  • Admit that massive renewable energy generation is still a new field, particularly in Canada. No one has all the answers. Remember the euphoria about nuclear and hydro energy few decades back, and the reckoning of their environmental long-term impact later. We all have to learn in this new process and we can't do it in confrontational battle lines. Only good constructive conversations can help us learn how best to proceed.

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