Thursday, 13 October 2011

Canadian smoking gun?

This post is about a quite significant move by TransAlta, a canadian power company. Although it is not about Scotland - or south west Scotland, I believe this to be an interesting item that may have far reaching consequences. In an apparently bizarre move, this company bought four properties close to one of their wind farms and then sold them at a loss totalling $500,000 (source, CBC News article - you will need to scroll down about a third of the page, to the section entitled 'Power company sells at a loss'). I wouldn't normally publish a post without being able to check the facts, but CBC News are a sufficiently credible organisation that I am happy that what they have reported is very likely to be correct. So, what did TransAlta gain from these transactions? Well, apart from a small hole in their bank account, the new owners were required to sign waivers that acknowledged:

'the wind turbine facilities may affect the buyer's "living environment" and that the power company will not be responsible for or liable from any of the buyer's "complaints, claims, demands, suits, actions or causes of action of every kind known or unknown which may arise directly or indirectly from the Transferee's wind turbine facilities.'

Additionally, the waiver sites the following as possible impacts of living near their turbines:

heat, sound, vibration, shadow flickering of light, noise (including grey noise) or any other adverse effect or combination thereof resulting directly or indirectly from the operation.

The turbines were originally installed and operated by a company called Canadian Hydro, who were taken over by TransAlta. Now, let's think about this a bit. Were the four previous occupiers so vociferous that they needed to be silenced - at all costs? I would think that was unlikely, after all a lot of power companies simply ignore people who make complaints about wind farms - and TransAlta could have done just that in this case, saved half a million dollars and avoided the publicity this move generated.

Clearly, the power company weren't trying to demonstrate that wind farms do not affect Canadian property prices - well, if that was the object of the exercise, it doesn't look like it worked very well. Try as I might, I can think of only one conclusion that can be drawn from this, (without insulting people's intelligence): the previous occupiers knew something, threatened to do something, or were in the process of doing something that TransAlta didn't like, and the only way TransAlta could avoid whatever was going on was to buy out these properties.

Look again at what the new owners had to sign. It acknowledges that occupying the properties COULD affect people's lives in both specific and undefined ways.

This one action may well be the most significant acknowledgement yet that the power industry is aware of issues with regard to wind turbines sited close to residential properties. However, what I find truly bizarre about this story is this: why didn't the power company just keep the properties and avoid all of the negative publicity?