The wind wars have reached a crescendo. More than likely, the turbulence will intensify until autumn at least when a provincial election could settle some of the political torrent. Not all of it is political, but some current wind noise does anticipate the October vote.
In a recent visit to the Huron-Bruce riding now held by his Liberal government’s Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell, Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged rural unrest over wind power planning.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has sought to harness that unrest over perceived health and property value impacts for his own campaign to unseat McGuinty’s government.
Even municipal manoeuvring that has emerged over wind issues in recent months may reflect alliances among local councillors and provincial party positions. That is not to say the objections of local municipalities are without validity. It’s just that Conservativealigned council members may feel greater outrage over these developments than those with Liberal inclinations.
Even so, party politics is only part of the story. International Power Canada vice-president David Timm appeared in late April before Grey Highlands council to express dissatisfaction with costly delays in municipal processing of his company’s building permit applications for 11 turbines. Timm threatened legal action in the absence of permits he said should be issued “immediately.”
Also in April, community relations manager Paul Austin for Acciona Canada Ltd., confirmed in an interview with Sun Times reporter Paul Jankowski that his company has purchased five homes near its 76 megawatt wind farm in the Ripley area of southern Bruce County. Terms of the sale have not been disclosed and the homeowners involved are bound by confidentiality agreements.
No doubt this will serve some as acknowledgement by a major wind operator that its turbines have harmed residential neighbours. That is not the company’s perspective.
Rather, the purchase and eventual resale of properties may simply be less costly than a prolonged legal dispute over the issue of harm. That such a dispute in open court could generate undesirable publicity and risk setting dangerous precedents may or may not have been a factor.
As Austin explained to Jankowski, the purchases by Acciona and its partner, Suncor Energy Products Inc., “acknowledge that the neighbours’ concerns persisted” despite “a prolonged period of consultation” and study. Austin denies any suggestion of a causal link between those unspecified concerns of “that small group of neighbours” and turbine operations.
What the Acciona settlement does seem to acknowledge, however, is the validity of the argument that it bears some responsibility to operate in a way that avoids harm to its neighbours. While it leaves open the question of how grievances arose in the Ripley location, the existence of valid grievances seems acknowledged.
To say such buyouts as have occurred near Ripley will ultimately settle continuing conflict over wind power development in rural Ontario is overly optimistic. There’s a bigger showdown ahead as the provincial election approaches.
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