Wolfe Island is located at the far eastern end of Lake Ontario and is traditionally considered to be the start of the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands. There is no doubt it is part of one of the loveliest areas in the world as well as an important area for birds. No matter; there are now 86 wind turbines on the island’s western half. For many of the residents on the island this project has been a disaster, and part of their response has been to ask for reductions in their tax assessments from MPAC, the folks who do the assessing for the province.
It is a one-sided contest. The Kenney’s appeal is instructive. It was the two of them against a small army of lawyers from MPAC as well as the government. I understand that MPAC was willing to give them a reduction, but the sticking point was that the Kenneys wanted the wind turbines listed as a cause. The wind industry (for obvious reasons) really wants to maintain the fiction that wind projects do not affect home prices and even a small breach in that fiction might cause the entire edifice to come tumbling down like the house of cards that it is.One of the products of these efforts was a FOIA-obtained spreadsheet with all the reductions granted for the township where Wolfe Island is located. I spent some time looking through this data, doing some analysis to see what nuggets I could extract. To sum it up, while there’s not enough data to come to any firm conclusions about the effects of wind turbines on prices, there’s enough strangeness to get one’s interest. What would perhaps be more instructive is a comparison between this data and what would be considered typical in Ontario. Still, there are aspects that are attention-grabbing and might end up being significant.
This data covered the Frontenac Islands Township, which covers Wolfe, Howe and Simcoe Islands plus a handful of smaller ones. It lists a total of 483 property value reductions during the 7 years from 2005/2006 through 2011/2012. Of these, 133 were on Howe, 56 on Simcoe and 294 on Wolfe, with 108 on the eastern half and 186 on the project-riddled western half. If there had been a real preponderance of reductions from Wolfe/west it might have been indicative, but the distribution just as a guess seems unremarkable. I don’t know how many properties there are in each of these 4 areas so I don’t know how the rates of reductions might vary. I do know there are a total of 1045 properties among the 3 islands. Are 483 reductions over 7 years and 1045 properties unusual? I don’t know, and if anyone out there has any insights we’d all appreciate them.
Next I looked at the patterns over the 7 years. 2005/2006 was the first year of data I had and at that time the size and location of the project was still uncertain. I’m assuming that of the 7 years this was the most “normal”. I must qualify the “normal”, however, because MPAC redoes its assessments on a 3-year cycle, and 2005/2006 was The Year. So there were lots of reductions, especially for smaller Simcoe Island. I understand many (or even most) of the residents there submitted requests for reductions using a lack of fire and ambulance services as justifications. For just Wolfe Island, the 7 years ran as follows, with the number and average size of the reductions (for the compulsive adders, a few properties had multiple reductions).
- 2005/06: 130, 9.3%
- 2006/07: 33, 15.2%
- 2007/08: 12, 28.8%
- 2008/09: 34, 12.4%
- 2009/10: 44, 29.0%
- 2010/11: 22, 30.0%
- 2011/12: 27, 24.0%
I’d bet that the size of the reductions in the first year, 9.3%, would be more typical than reductions averaging 25-30%, but I’d love to see some numbers. Again, if anyone out there has some insights…
Then I looked at the size of the reductions among the different areas to see if Wolfe/west was different. To do this I looked at just empty lots, both farm and residential, to avoid the complications of housing (like burning down). Simcoe’s data was so small that I didn’t include it, but for the other 3 areas over the last 3 years (when the project was either in construction or in operation) I get the following:
- Howe, 10 reductions, 23.9%
- Wolfe/east: 16 reductions, 35.5%
- Wolfe/west: 13 reductions, 36.3%
Those numbers, while suggestive, aren’t so far apart as to be totally convincing.
Opponents have long maintained that residential properties are more affected than farm properties, and the data here supports that idea. For the last 3 years on Wolfe Island, vacant residential properties received reductions averaging 44.6%, while vacant farm properties averaged 22.2%.
Finally I departed from the MPAC spreadsheet and looked at MPAC’s sales data. MPAC doesn’t publish sales prices but they do publish the number of sales in each township and city over a 3-year period.
- Ontario: 570,000 sales out of 3,570,000 properties, a 15.9% rate.
- Frontenac Islands: 65 out of 1,045, 6.2%.
- Loyalist Township: 691 out of 4478, 15.4%.
- Kingston: 6395 out of 34651, 18.5%.
- South Frontenac: 850 out of 8270, 10.3%.
- Leeds & Thousand Islands: 486 out of 4819, 10.1%.
Is it coincidence that the area we’re interested in just happens to have the lowest turnover rate among all the surrounding areas? If you want to get more information on Wolfe’s sales go to my posting on Wolfe sales.
My best guess, given the remarkable size of the reductions, is that MPAC knows there’s effects, but is determined to hide the cause. Since MPAC seems to have an interest in supporting wind turbines that shouldn’t come as any surprise. Recall that MPAC’s board is appointed by the Minister of Finance, presently one Dwight Duncan, who supports wind turbines.
If I came across some data that could be used to compare Frontenac Island’s recent experience with some non-wind-project-blighted area it might be more instructive. Hint, hint…