The ill wind that blows

You may have read about how the Calgary Board of Education planned to build a wind turbine at Dr. EP Scarlett High School. Then, when experts suggested it wasn’t such a good idea, and after, I’m guessing, listening to many angry residents, the CBE announced it was cancelling the project.

Many of the complaints, articulated very well in the first Herald story, came from residents of Canyon Meadows and Southwood, who hadn’t heard about the project until the community open house, held just eight days before the deadline for the development application. There was no consultation, no information and no opportunity for residents to voice concerns beforehand. It’s not clear how the well the open house was advertised.

Once again, this single issue provides a very clear example of the work ARTICS is trying to do. Our mandate is threefold. We want to board to operate with transparency, we want them to consult Calgarians in a meaningful way and we’d like to see trustees accountable for their actions. Do these things and, chances are, you can avoid some of these PR nightmares.

The first problem with this decision is the fact it happened in private. All we know about the decision regarding the Johnson Controls contract is from the minutes of the private board meeting from Feb, 24, 2009:

MOVED by Trustee Lane: THAT the Board of Trustees approves the Johnson Controls’ energy conservation project and proposed financing, as outlined in the report, subject to the approval by the Minister of Education for the capital borrowing, up to the amount of $15.3 million to finance this project. The motion was CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY. Absent: Trustee Kryczka.

Imagine, if they had debated the merits of the contract with Johnson Controls in public? The report would have been made public – and there would have been a whole lot of people thinking about where to put a windmill. There could have been engagement and discussion about renewable energy.

The second mistake came when Administration decided to move ahead without public consultation. Even though, more and more often, the kids that attend schools don’t live next to them, at the heart of every school is the community. Members of the community must be a part of decision making. I’d argue they should have a say about what happens inside the school, but especially on the school grounds, and especially when it’s as controversial as a full-size wind turbine.

This board has chosen not to consult – on any topic. Parents have had lunch room fees, transportation fees and a school food policy imposed without any consultation at all. They’ve also had French as a second language learning and the family maximum for transportation fees removed, also without any consultation.

Thankfully, common sense prevailed here. CBE administration recognized they probably weren’t going to get neighbors on side to get the development permit. The project was cancelled.

There are still many lingering questions, including what happens to the $290,000 earmarked for the project but embedded in a $15.3 million contract, and when they will try this again. Frank Coppinger, the CBE’s superintendent of facilities and environmental services, said “At some time in the future, we’ll investigate whether there is another suitable site and a more receptive community.”

3 thoughts on “The ill wind that blows

  1. Funny cause there’s so much hot air around there.
    I think the wind energy use would have been a great example for kids – plus a cost saver eventually. Ah sigh, another educational opportunity lost.

  2. I don’t understand the problem. The CBE put forward an idea, asked the community what they thought, and responded accordingly. Why are you always so negative?

  3. If the CBE had put forward an idea, asked for community input and responded accordingly, we would be applauding the CBE right now. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. The CBE was not in the “idea” stage of this project when they asked for input. As you can see from their proposed schedule, (http://www.cbe.ab.ca/Schools/ceop/windturbine/schedule_summary_table.pdf) there was never any intention of asking for community input. November 2 was a community awareness night designed to introduce the community to the project for which they had already started preparing the development permits that were to be submitted on November 10. This community awareness night was not advertised in any community newsletter or school newsletter, according to those who submitted feedback (http://www.cbe.ab.ca/Schools/ceop/windturbine/Feedback_Nov2_2011.pdf). We will also never know if the CBE was responding to the concerns of the residents or the negative media attention that this project was getting. Would the outcome have been the same if there hadn’t been so many news articles on the subject?

    We hope that when the CBE identifies other potential sites for wind turbines, that citizens will be involved during the initial stages, and that their input will be valued.

    I’m sorry that you find us so negative, however we do have serious concerns about the transparency, responsiveness and accountability of the CBE and the Board of Trustees and we will continue to bring these issues to the attention of the public whenever we can.

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