Hundreds of wind turbines have popped up in southwestern Ontario over the last four years, transforming its rural landscape.
But the provincial Liberal government’s green-energy push, along with higher consumer electricity rates to pay for them, has also sparked backlash in the region’s farm belt that for two elections has been fertile soil for Dalton McGuinty’s party.
With the Oct. 6 provincial election now just four months away, the question is whether that resistance will change the political landscape in the region the Liberals have dominated since 2003, holding eight of 10 seats.
With their green-energy push and determination to end Ontario’s reliance on coal-fired power by 2014, including the shutdown of the Lambton plant near Sarnia, Ont., the Liberals have heavily promoted wind and solar power projects.
Southwestern Ontario – big, rural and wind-blown in many areas – is home to some of the largest such operations.
But residents near turbines claim health problems, lower property values and negative effects on farm operations.
Wind Concerns Ontario, an umbrella group for more than 50 anti-turbine groups, is sworn to toppling the Liberals.
“If they want to stand by their green energy policies, then they can go down to defeat Oct. 6,” Wind Concerns president John Laforet said. He’s been on a speaking tour denouncing the Liberals and their Green Energy Act.
McGuinty has admitted his government could have done a better job explaining its push for renewable, clean energy.
The Liberal bid to shutter coal-fired power plants – a vow made before, then twice delayed – hasn’t played well in Sarnia-Lambton, home to Ontario Power Generation’s giant Lambton generation station. It’s also one of only two ridings in the region that rejected the Liberals last time, electing Conservative Bob Bailey in 2007.
The McGuinty government recently delayed approvals for offshore wind turbines, another hot issue in southwestern Ontario, but hundreds more will soon rise on land.
PC Leader Tim Hudak has vowed to scrap the government’s $7-billion deal with industrial giant Samsung that, among other things, would create hundreds of jobs and see turbine blades manufactured in Ontario for the first time.
That promise puts veteran Tory MPP Ernie Hardeman in a bit of a tight spot in Oxford, since Siemens Canada is completing a $20-million conversion of a Tillsonburg plant to build turbine blades. The venture, tied to Samsung, is creating 300 new jobs.
Hardeman, However, supports Hudak, saying it doesn’t make sense for the government to pay up to 80 cents a kilowatt-hour of electricity from green projects and then sell it to the consumer for only six cents.
“There were wind turbines built before this deal and there will be in future,” Hardeman said.
The Liberals insist scrapping the deal would hurt Ontario’s business reputation and be costly for taxpayers.
Voters in southwestern Ontario, living in the shadow of wind turbines or not, have also expressed concern at the sharply increased price of power and projections it will skyrocket further.
Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath would ease that by removing the HST from electricity and home-heating costs.
Hudak said he’d replace the lost revenue by finding government “efficiencies,” while Horwath would scrap Liberal corporate-tax cuts.
Until recently, Hudak had vowed to scrap the HST entirely, but has now opted to keep it.
Paul Nesbitt-Larking,a political science professor at Huron University College in London, says he doubts wind turbines will be a major election issue.
“You never know in an election campaign what’s going to be an issue,” he said. “Turbines could be a local issue. We will have to wait and see.”
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