A COPA member approached me at an event recen\tly and started the conversation by saying that “The word on the street is that COPA is not interested in protecting aviation from wind farms.”
I pointed out the many times that COPA has attempted to educate the public and all levels of government about the negative impact that these obstacles have on thousands of aerodromes and airports across Canada. I explained to the member what little power COPA, or any other association or other aviation industry folks have on preventing the negative impact on aviation.
This exchange with the member spurred me to summarize the issues in this article and remind members of their role in preventing wind energy proponents from creating safety hazards and interfering with aviation.
COPA has been working on this issue for 10 years. We were even asked by Nav Canada to help them oppose a development near Moncton, New Brunswick when they discovered well down the development process that a wind farm would interfere with a surveillance radar site for eastern Canada.
Nav Canada was amazed that Transport Canada would not step in and prevent the development from proceeding and they knew that COPA had been trying to get Transport Canada’s attention for many years.
This particular project illustrates very well what we are up against. It was not simply a small airstrip and the impact on one person’s enjoyment of aviation; it was the loss of surveillance capability and Nav Canada’s ability to manage air traffic.
While they managed to find a way to mitigate the problems in Moncton to a certain extent, Nav Canada came to learn what COPA had known for many years; that there is no interest on the part of government in protecting aviation from the perils of wind farms. In fact, Nav Canada subsequently discovered that wind turbines placed within
15 km of a VOR can interfere with the signal and render airways unusable. Nav Canada was again amazed that Transport Canada would not step in.
COPA Director Paul Hayes, who is also a consultant on the impact of obstacles on aviation and performs studies for the cellphone and wind industry, wrote an article on the subject in the February 2010 edition of COPA Flight.
It highlighted what COPA has done to get the attention of the government and the industry, including making several presentations, attending meetings and funding a risk assessment exercise so I will not repeat the points here but I would like to emphasize the main points of this issue.
Some members may not like what I am about to say, particularly in public, but this is the political reality. Whether or not you are a supporter of alternative forms of energy, it is a fact that at the political level wind energy is a popular band wagon to be on. It would take a very compelling argument to get any politician to be seen to oppose wind energy.
The arguments that we have put forward, including safety issues and loss of use of many aerodromes are not good enough. We need to have people die, it seems, before anyone may pay attention.
It is very clear to me that our sector of aviation is not a good one to be leading the charge against wind farms. Our sector is a very small portion of the population and therefore has little influence on politicians compared with much larger groups (read wind energy industry).
We are viewed by many politicians as having no purpose and our contribution to society is not appreciated. Instead we are simply seen as rich people with toys, no matter how many times we have tried to educate the public and politicians otherwise.
To make matters worse, we can be seen as advocating against clean energy and in favour of polluting the atmosphere, including spreading lead everywhere. Sure, there are plenty of scientific studies that prove that our impact is miniscule compared with all other forms of transportation but that is not the point, especially to a politician.
So, they are very reluctant to be seen to be in favour of supporting aviation and opposing wind farms.
So, what power does COPA have to prevent a project from going ahead? I could charge in on each project on a white horse and tilt at windmills (sorry for the pun) but this would get us nowhere. We have discovered that the key to preventing interference is to get in there early, at the local level, make proponents aware of the issues, in particular safety, and keep the issues in front of the decision makers all through the process leading to site selection.
You may not be able to stop the project entirely (this rarely occurs no matter who is opposing the development) but you may be able to get individual turbines moved in order to clear a path to and from an aerodrome. Waiting until further in the process or expecting someone else to step in will never bring the results you desire.
I hope that you can appreciate that with 7,000 more wind turbines to be erected in order to meet various government commitments to wind energy, it is impossible for COPA with our very small staff to get intimately involved in every situation.
Instead, it is important for every member who is affected by wind turbines to take the advice and information contained in Paul Hayes’ article and our Guide to Private Aerodromes to bring your concerns forward to the wind energy proponents and local politicians early and often during the development and consultation process.