Timing in most things is everything, and the timing of the bombshell dropped by Liberal MPP Bill Mauro Thursday could not have been more propitious for him and his party just 34 days before an election.
Mauro released the contents of an email he received from Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey making clear that the contentious Horizon Wind energy development proposed for Thunder Bay’s Nor’Wester mountains may have been dead seven months ago.
Jeffrey said Horizon was formally advised in February that “the construction and operation of the Big Thunder Wind Project is likely to harm, harass or kill peregrine falcons.”
Peregrines are threatened under the Endangered Species Act and though their recovery in this area has been remarkable, the designation has not changed. As such, she wrote to Mauro this week, “I don’t know how the proponent could satisfy the conditions to allow my ministry to issue a permit to allow the project to proceed. I have serious concerns about the effect the proposed project could potentially have on the recovery of peregrine falcons in Ontario. I am not prepared to issue a permit at this time, nor do I understand how a permit could be issued for this site.”
That is good news for the group of residents living below the site who’ve been fighting it for years, and for thousands more city residents who couldn’t accept the thought of a so-called wind farm of towering turbines atop a landmark.
It’s good news for city council which got caught between provincial green energy legislation that removed its control after it had given its approval to a project that had seemed like a good thing. Council later tried to appease mountain area residents by asking Horizon to move a couple of turbines back from the cliff face but was promptly served with a $126-million lawsuit by Horizon. The city tried for arbitration but a judge refused and it backed down.
Horizon’s tactics and its attitude at public meetings has rankled a growing number of citizens who felt victimized by a company that stood to make large profits from Ontario’s generous Green Energy Act, building wind turbines to provide energy surplus to city needs and returning a small fraction of the profits to city coffers.
Jeffrey’s letter thus comes at a perfect time for campaigning Liberals. Mauro insists the timing is coincidental. “I talk to the minister about this all the time,” he said Thursday. But why did Jeffrey choose to issue such a definitive statement to him at this time?
Mauro claims that members of the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee were aware of the crucial MNR February letter to Horizon, but that he didn’t talk about it and the government didn’t reveal it because Horizon hadn’t re-submitted a formal Renewable Energy Approval bid after its initial one was rejected.
There is still no formal REA on the environment minister’s desk and Horizon has still not satisfied the MNR’s concern about peregrines. The birds have been there since Horizon proposed this project years ago. Why now, five weeks before an election in a riding that Mauro barely won last time, is the Minister of Natural Resources issuing such a definitive statement about the fate of the wind farm? This newspaper asked the ministry, which deferred to Mauro as the point man on the file. Which leaves the MPP free to pepper his press release with glowing quotes from the protection committee and a rural mayor about his “hard work” on the issue.
Mauro insists he’s been opposed to the site all along and hopes that the project can still go ahead, but in a different spot. On that he’s right. The Nor’Westers contain a string of flat mountaintops but only two were tested for wind speeds.
Horizon first proposed the project on the Big Thunder ski jump site (itself a festering file on Mauro’s desk with Olympic-grade athletes clamoring for it to re-open) but moved it over to the Loch Lomond ski club site. The former would have required connection to a single Hydro One line while the latter would join a much more robust Thunder Bay Hydro line at much lower cost. The subsequent Green Energy Act rendered this issue moot because grid connections are now paid by hydro ratepayers, not the developer.
Bottom line: peregrines thrive on the Nor’Westers and Horizon and the government have known it since Day 1. Either the MNR has been stringing Horizon along or there is still hope for the wind farm.
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