Opponents and supporters of the $1.35-billion wind turbine project in Lake Ontario off Kingston agree its cancellation last week by the provincial government was a purely political decision.
“It has nothing to do with science and it has everything to do with an election year and they’re afraid of losing votes,” said Jeff Garrah, CAO of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation.
Late Friday afternoon, a press release from the office of Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the application for Windstream Wolfe Island Shoals Inc. would be “suspended” while “further scientific research is conducted.”
Headed by Ian and Nancy Baines, who have ties to Kingston and Queen’s University, the project would have involved the installation of 60 to 150 turbines producing up to 300 megawatts of power.
“It was a very suspicious time for a decision to be made,” said Garrah. “Friday at 4 o’clock when there’s a major story developing in Egypt.”
KEDCO had invested 100 to 150 hours of staff time over the past year helping Windstream make contacts with local contractors for everything from underwater archeological assessments to general contracting and marine support services.
Construction was to begin in 2013.
Nancy Baines said they were “surprised” by the announcement.
“It could be a better day,” she said when reached by the Whig-Standard yesterday.
She and her husband had conceived the 86-turbine project now operating on Wolfe Island and finalized all the lease agreements before selling it to Canadian Hydro Developers in 2005. It is now run by TransAlta of Alberta.
Last year, Windstream was awarded a Feed in Tariff from the province to install turbines in the relatively shallow waters west of Wolfe Island.
“We worked on this for several years. We still have a contract with the Ontario Power Authority. We do have a contract,” said Baines.
“All I can tell you is we were made aware of that announcement on Friday and we are assessing our options,” Baines said.
Windstream hired a consulting firm to analyse the economic benefits of the project and the resulting report estimated there would be 1,900 jobs created over the five years of construction and 175 ongoing jobs for 20 years of operation.
“This was a tremendous possibility for Kingston,” said Baines. “I don’t even want to put it in the past tense. The opportunity to create jobs is huge.”
Both Garrah and Baines said it appeared the only issue that needed to be decided was the setback from shore.
Garrah said the consensus among bureaucrats was for five kilometres.
“To my mind that was the main environmental issue people were grappling with,” he said.
Garrah wondered why, if there were still environmental concerns, the government issued the contract to Wind-stream in the first place.
“To do it after a contract is issued, it’s purely a political manoeuvre,” he said.
The government release said Ontario would monitor findings coming from the only freshwater turbine project in the world, located in Sweden.
Mark Mattson of the environmental group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper said the Liberal government had a number of environmental unknowns to deal with.
“The announcement suggests the government is going back to reassess its energy policies. It’s chaotic,” said Mattson.
“They politicized the energy policies in Ontario. Energy decisions used to go through independent panels and reviews. Now it’s straight from the politicians. They pushed these wind projects too far.”
Mattson welcomed the announcement even though five years ago he admitted having “wholeheartedly endorsed the government’s move to green power.”
Environmental groups began to get shut out of the review process, he said, as land-based wind projects were placed in the middle of environmentally sensitive areas such as Wolfe Island.
Mattson also believes the cost of offshore wind power convinced the government to back out.
“My information said it was going to be very expensive and difficult to build offshore,” he said. “They were going to need a lot of government subsidies.”
Mattson noted that Energy Minister Brad Duguid, MPP for Scarborough Centre, had a conflict – a proposal for an offshore development near the Scarborough Bluffs in Toronto.
Garrah said Environment Minister John Wilkinson also bowed to a “predominant lobby” fighting an offshore project in his riding of Perth-Wellington.
“They should recuse themselves from the file so they’re not affected by the wind lobby,” said Garrah.