Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 24, 2007

U of G Profs Help Towns Plan for Influx of Windmill Farms

Windmill farms are cropping up faster than some rural municipalities can plan for, so University of Guelph landscape architects have developed guidelines to help communities incorporate these towering structures without sacrificing their idyllic landscapes.

Jim Taylor and Robert Corry of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development recently conducted a study for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to develop best practices for siting wind energy facilities in rural Ontario. The report was based on research conducted for the Municipality of Grey Highlands on wind farm zoning.

“There’s been a whole shift towards renewable energy,” said Taylor. “Ontario was virgin territory for wind energy, and now all of a sudden operators of commercial wind generation are looking for places here. Small rural areas are having wind farms dropped on them.”

The recent move by the province to support renewable energy, including wind energy, has made it a viable economic business in Ontario, said Taylor. But with most wind turbines standing at least 100 metres high and the average wind farm stretching a couple of kilometres, this new form of rural industry can cause significant change to the rural landscape, he said.

“Wind generators are strong visual elements, and people react to them. Some like them and some hate them.”

One of the biggest concerns rural communities have about the towers is that they destroy the scenic view that attracts residents and tourists to the area.

In developing the zoning plan for the Municipality of Grey Highlands, Taylor and Corry considered the landscape as well as the impact on residential and recreational activities. Corry said spots near major roads, scenic viewpoints and residential areas are typically not suitable for wind farms.

“But in locations where there are trees nearby, they might work as a good place because the trees would act as a visual blocker,” he said.

The final plan developed for Grey Highlands includes three distinct zones: areas that shouldn’t have wind farms because the towers would conflict too much with the scenic value; areas that are physically sensitive to towers and should require an environmental assessment before an application for a wind farm is accepted; and areas that are suitable for wind generators because the towers won’t conflict with the scenery or any residential or recreational activities.

The researchers used field observations and geographic information system technology to model such factors as visibility, visual absorption capacity, visual quality and policy protection zones.

Since development of the zoning plan last year, a number of rural municipalities in Ontario have turned to it to help manage inquiries from companies, said Taylor.

“This methodology will help give municipalities an idea of how to approach the influx of wind farms and how to defend decisions on where these farms can and can’t go. Ontario’s rural landscape is going to change with the increasing number of wind farms, but our view is that it should be managed and well-informed.”

Robert Corry
School of Landscape Architecture
519-824-4120, Ext. 58034

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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