About 150 placard-carrying opponents of wind turbines rallied outside Environment Minister John Wilkinson’s reelection campaign office Wednesday evening in support of a moratorium on wind power and a return of decision making to municipalities.
“This is the defining issue in rural Ontario and we’ve got to make sure this is the defining issue of this election,” declared speaker John Laforet, president of Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO).
Laforet, who said he is a former federal Liberal riding president, urged WCO supporters to back Progressive Conservative candidates since the party is the only one clearly in support of a wind power moratorium.
He accused the government of ignoring 80 municipal councils representing two million people.
“It’s the beginning of a process that will result in John Wilkinson being finally evicted from office,” he said, following a peaceful parade through downtown Stratford.
The coalition against the government’s wind energy policy claims to represent 58 community groups spread across the province. A cursory sampling of the crowd indicated the presence of individuals from Stratford, Clinton, Sebringville, Bornholm and Goderich.
“We’re hoping the PCs will get in so all this stuff will be slowed down and we get the studies done and get the proper economics,” said Dave Hurlburt of Bellwood, who said a proposed project at Bellwood could mean a wind farm right next to his home.
Hurlburt said a two kilometre setback would probably solve 98% of the problems.
Clinton resident Peter Middleton said he could have two turbines within 600 metres (the minimum Ontario setback is 550 metres) of his home.
“I think it’s just a terrible solution, a terrible idea, however well-intentioned,” he said.
Dave Hemingway of the Goderich area said he’s looking at possibly 100 turbines around where he lives.
He provided a list of varying setbacks for turbines in jurisdictions in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere. They included 1,000 metres in Nova Scotia and 750 metres in Quebec.
Demonstrators were invited to return to Stratford Thursday to do some campaigning for Wilkinson’s Tory opponent.
Friends of Wind Ontario was represented at the rally by a relatively small band that including its president Jutta Splettstoesser of Kincardine, who said most Ontarians support wind power.
“Why do we need more studies when there are many people all over the world living with wind turbines that proves there are no health effects,” she said.
Wilkinson wasn’t around for the show outside his campaign office.
He said Tuesday he would be out campaigning.
Just a few hours before the demonstration, however, he held a press conference at Stratford General Hospital that focused the moratorium issue on environmentally bad coal-generated electricity versus non-polluting renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro generation.
Giving unequivocal support to the Ontario government’s off-coal policy was Dr. John Howard, a pediatric gastroenterologist who is chairperson of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
“We feel the Ontario government is making the right decision in getting rid of coal,” said Howard.
While he acknowledged there’s uncertainty about wind turbines and human health, he said the certainty about coal use causing deaths (estimated at 316 in Ontario in 2010) and illness (158,000) far outweighs that uncertainty.
Howard called the off-coal move “a great first step” that CAPE wants to see p>Also backing the government’s promotion of wind power was Lel Morrison, a member of Ontario Nurses for the Environment representing the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.
Morrison said the association welcomes the Green Energy Act and does not support a moratorium on wind turbines. She said the predominance of expert opinion (relating to adverse health effects) is that “this time out is not necessary or supported by the evidence.”
Wilkinson said he is proud to be part of a government that uploaded wind energy regulations to the province. Prior to that it was “a patchwork quilt,” he said. Wilkinson said the 30% of Ontario’s power that had been derived from coal has been reduced 93% and will be completely phased out by 2014
About half of the province’s electrical power comes from nuclear generation, about 20% hydro and about 15 % is derived from natural gas. Coal-generated power is close to 5%
Wilkinson said the most important thing the environment ministry has been doing is in conservation, which reduces peak demand. He said wind and solar power are intermittent but said those non-polluting energy sources are a valuable way for the province to diversify power generation and are increasingly important parts of the energy mix.
Dr. Trish Van Boekel, an emergency physician at the Stratford hospital who was very much involved in the anti-pesticide movement, suggested consideration might be given to some form of compensation for people who live near wind turbines but who don’t directly benefit from them.
Wind produces about 1% of Ontario’s electrical power.