“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”
Edmund Burke, British statesman, 1729 to 1797.
An analogy may be that those who do not see the future are destined to be victims of it. Such is the case with the evolution of the wind energy industry in Ontario. Our governments’ collective lack of vision has turned what should have been a universal win for regions like Dufferin County into a sadly divisive issue. By governments, I’m referring to Ontario’s current Liberal government, the Conservatives that preceded them and the NDP government before that.
Contrast our experience with that of Europe. In Denmark during the 1980s, many wind turbines were being erected by individuals or co-ops. These turbines were predominantly less than a quarter of the size of the turbines we see in Dufferin County today. A typical Danish wind co-operative owned three to five turbines and was financed by several hundred local individuals.
Rules required an investor to live in the district where the turbines occurred, so it was a desirable thing to have a wind power co-operative in your area. A cap in the amount one individual could invest ensured that ownership was diverse, reflecting the interests of the community.
Needless to say, this 25-year-old co-operative model lead to more harmonious wind power development than today’s corporate wind farms in Dufferin County.
In 1990, the year of the NDP majority victory, the German government was forging their future with a wind resource research program that granted a modest subsidy in exchange for wind turbine operators to report their wind data. In 1991, they added a feed-in law that guaranteed wind energy producers 90 per cent of the retail price for power produced. About half of the wind power producers over the following years were farmers, which stabilized rural incomes, while generating a mountain of data that helped the wind industry plan and prosper.
Wind power co-operatives developed along with the technology and in the 1990s power companies jumped on board with larger wind farms. By the year 2000, wind power equipment and technology was a booming new industry in Europe, and Denmark’s leading export. Tensions between corporate wind and communities were growing with the industry.
Remarkably, through the 1980s, the 1990s and into this new millennia, the politicians we were electing remained oblivious to this maturing economic boom and the need to plan for it. Only recently has the Ontario Liberal government stumbled into the fray by stifling local opposition to corporate wind with the Green Energy Act. Their belated attempt to establish a substantial renewable power industry in Ontario is costing Ontario taxpayers dearly with huge subsidies to Samsung and its Korean government-owned partner.
The divisions within our community, the loss of local control and the lack of a home grown renewable energy industry are the consequence and cost of leadership that failed to learn from others and plan ahead. They were blind to the future and we are the victims.?
Rob Strang is a former Orangeville town councillor, a professional engineer and a self-employed father of three.
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