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Alberta wind-power fight buffets Suzuki
Under fire from environmentalists for seemingly endorsing controversial proposal
By DAWN WALTON

Friday, April 29, 2005 Updated at 5:56 AM EST

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Calgary — David Suzuki finds himself on an unfamiliar side of the conservation debate: under fire from environmentalists for seemingly endorsing a controversial wind-farm proposal in the southeast corner of Alberta.

In a commentary, "The beauty of wind farms," published in New Scientist magazine, the renowned Canadian scientist, who is about to be honoured with the Canadian Environment Award for lifetime achievement, outlines the virtues of emission-free wind energy.

Mr. Suzuki describes the battles brewing among environmentalists in North America and Europe over wind farms, including the debate over a proposal to erect one near Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, southeast of Medicine Hat.

Mr. Suzuki plays down complaints about views being ruined and calls for perspective in light of what he describes as the growing urgency about climate change.

"We cannot shout from the rooftops about the dangers of global warming and then turn around and shout even louder about the 'dangers' of windmills," he writes.

"This is not to say that wind farms should be allowed to spring up anywhere," he adds, calling for environmental assessments.

"A blanket 'not in my backyard' approach is hypocritical and counterproductive."

The article prompted a flurry of letters to Mr. Suzuki's Vancouver office and local newspapers from environmentalists who worry it will undermine their opposition to David Boileau's plan to erect, just outside the Cypress Hills park, at least 35 windmills that will generate at least 100 megawatts of energy and power up to 78,000 homes a year.

Mr. Boileau used Mr. Suzuki's commentary as ammunition during a recent public hearing in Cypress County where the municipal council could rule May 3 on whether to amend a land-use bylaw to accommodate Mr. Boileau's plan.

"I am concerned that the real issue at stake here not be lost in the hype involving a big name like David Suzuki," said Shirley Bray, a director with the Calgary-based Alberta Wilderness Association.

She is among a group of environmentalists worried about the landscape being spoiled, grasslands being torn up, birds being sliced and approval of this development leading to more development.

"The issue is not whether wind turbines are beautiful or ugly; that is a great big red herring," Ms. Bray wrote in a letter to Mr. Suzuki.

Henry Binder, a lawyer-rancher who owns 227 hectares of grasslands outside the Cypress Hills park, said the Suzuki article is "damaging" to the lobby effort to block the $150-million to $300-million wind project.

"Your article is being used by the developer to justify unnecessary degradation which, I am confident, you would not support," Mr. Binder co-wrote in a three-page letter to Mr. Suzuki.

In an interview, Mr. Suzuki shrugged off the criticism.

"Anything I say whether it's positive or negative is going to be held up by one group or another," he said. "If I had said windmills are terrible and they shouldn't be in any area that you're trying to conserve, who do you think would have been holding it up?"

He reiterated the need for environmental assessments.

"I was very explicit. It's not a blanket statement that all windmills should be put up anywhere," he said.

But it's also Mr. Suzuki's description of the "beauty" of windmills that has Alberta environmentalists ticked. In the article, Mr. Suzuki describes the beautiful view from his cabin on an island off the coast of British Columbia.

"If one day I look out from my cabin's porch and see a row of windmills spinning in the distance, I won't curse them. I will praise them. It will mean we are finally getting somewhere."

Mr. Binder and others say talk about beauty of windmills is "propaganda" that should be left to developers.

Mr. Suzuki said criticism about esthetics is misdirected, and launched his own attack on that front. Prince Charles has called wind farms that dot the British countryside "horrendous" and a "blot on the landscape."

"I'm shocked at Prince Charles, because I've had a very good correspondence with him over the years, but for him to call it a blight," Mr. Suzuki said, "That really pisses me off."
 
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