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Offshore turbines with view to kill

For years, Premier Dalton McGuinty has made an art of dividing rural Ontarians from urban.

Now he’s gone one better, seeking to split the wealthiest rural landowners, those with lakefront property, from the rest of us.

It’s a breathtaking display of cynicism and a move that, in pure political terms, is clever. But it won’t keep this former idealist’s fat from the fire come October, I’m guessing. It’s too little, much too late.

Here was the stunner in the late-day announcement recently freezing offshore wind-turbine developments in Ontario: Energy Minister Brad Duguid, the hapless point man, allowed the government needs more time to study the environmental impact off offshore turbines – and the health effects.

“On-shore,” Duguid ventured, “there’s 30 or 40 years of peer-reviewed science … there’s no evidence of health impacts from on-shore wind, but off-shore is completely different.”

Completely different? Fascinating. The crowds of people who’ve packed public meetings around the province, reporting proximity disorders ranging from insomnia to headaches to a skin-crawling malaise, were no doubt intrigued to hear this. But let’s stick to the minister’s talking points.

The government needs more time to study the possible health effects, Duguid said, of offshore turbines.

Presumably he meant human health, as opposed to the health of zebra mussels, catfish, lampreys or lake trout.

But what possible health effects could there be, one wonders? For that matter, what environmental effects could there be, from a wind-turbine platform far out on the water?

Maybe the flow of water around the platform would annoy bottom-feeders, spoiling their digestion? Or perhaps there’s something about water that touches cement – something mysterious that makes it dangerous to drink, even after it’s treated and purified in a water-filtration plant.

Of course, this is patently nonsensical, when set against the province’s dogged determination to force residents of central Ontario to live within 550 metres of land-based industrial wind turbines.

If there’s a possible health effect from an offshore turbine, isn’t there necessarily the same possible effect from one on land? Isn’t there an even greater possible effect, since the land turbines are, relatively speaking, right on top of nearby residents?

Don’t people matter at least as much as fish?

Political clout

This is why news of the moratorium immediately drew hoots of derision. Anyone who has followed the slow implosion of McGuinty’s ramshackle and grotesquely expensive energy policy can see this was entirely political.

Lakefront residents of the urban belt along Lake Ontario, including Kingston and Toronto, have political clout. They have the numbers. They also have assets, which can be deployed in elections. Why? Because they own waterfront land – the most precious property around. The value of waterfront land, as any real estate agent will tell you, depends on the view.

The view. How could anyone pay any heed to the poor, selfish NIMBYists across central Ontario who hate the prospect of turbines in their back yard simply because they don’t want to see them glowering in the foreground when they’re relaxing on their porch?

And yet now we have the government acting to defuse a portion of its political problem, by mollifying waterfront landowners – in effect, preserving their net worth by preserving their lake view.

Will the gambit work? In some individual cases, maybe. But in the majority, no. McGuinty has for the first time admitted that this emperor has no clothes. It’s not something he can undo.

Opponents of industrial wind turbines can sense victory. Their efforts will be redoubled now.

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