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Wind energy plans a key issue in race for Scarborough-Guildwood

Despite announcing a moratorium on offshore wind projects in February, the provincial Liberals did not silence the concerns about wind energy in Guildwood.

While not necessarily the major election issue in Scarborough-Guildwood, wind energy is on the minds of many Guildwood residents as they consider who to vote for in the Oct. 6 Ontario election.

“If you walk through the village, especially the areas closest to the bluffs, there are still SOS (Save Our Shoreline) signs…It’s still on people’s minds,” said Harry Spindel, president of the Guildwood Village Community Association.

“It will be part of the election. There will be a number of residents who choose this as an issue that determines who they will vote for.”

He said the people of Guildwood are well educated on the issue and they know a moratorium doesn’t mean the wind turbine project is dead, but rather that it’s on hold.

The announcement three years ago by Toronto Hydro that it was seeking to install an anemometer to test for the viability of a wind energy project in Lake Ontario was met with a strong reaction from the residents of Guildwood and beyond. Multiple opposition groups sprang up and in February 2011 the Liberal government announcement it was instituting a moratorium on offshore wind until further research was done. The Liberals, under Premier Dalton McGuinty, had announced a similar moratorium in November 2006.

Incumbent MPP and Liberal cabinet minister Maragett Best said wind energy hasn’t been something she’s been hearing about from residents on the campaign trail.

“To be perfectly honest it’s not an issue that has been greeting me at the door,” she said in an interview. “I think the reason for that is the individuals who live near the lake are very sophisticated, intelligent people…They’re very much aware of (the moratorium) and they have confidence in what we’ve said in making sure we have the best scientific information.”

John Laforet is a Guildwood resident and president of Wind Concerns Ontario. He said wind energy is still an issue in the community, but in a different way than it was a year ago.

“The fight with the provincial government opened up the eyes of a lot of Scarborough Bluff’s residents…Even though the moratorium is in place, it left a bad impression with a lot of people,” he said.

The fact that the Liberals have gone down this road before doesn’t help either, Laforet said. “I don’t trust if the Liberals are re-elected that they won’t be back with a proposal to put wind turbines in Lake Ontario,” he said.

Progressive Conservative candidate Gary Ellis said wind energy is a localized election issue in the Guildwood area of the riding.

“There is really strong concern about this anemometer being out in the lake,” he said.

Residents have said the wind testing device installed in the lake in the spring of 2010 is a constant reminder of the prospect of wind turbines in the lake. Local Councillor Paul Ainslie has asked city council to ask Toronto Hydro to remove it, but for now it is staying until the data collection is complete. That data collection is estimated to take two years.

Ellis thinks the anemometer should be removed.

“I don’t think the anemometer is an issue in and of itself, but it’s a symbol of something else,” he said.

When he originally began following this issue he thought it was a case of people not wanting turbines in the lake because they were ugly, but he said he’s since done a lot of research on the health implications.

“This is now something that concerns me,” he said. “We don’t go ahead with experiments until we study the safety.”

NDP candidate Lorri Urban was surprised to learn wind energy was still such a big concern in the community.

“I didn’t think it would be such a big issue because of the moratorium,” she said.

Urban would like to see the anemometer stay and complete its testing; she believes in green energy.

“We require renewable energy not just for our health and consumption, but also for green energy jobs,” she said. “I have to be honest I believe in renewable energy and we have to test the possibility.”

Urban said she understands the concerns of residents, but no one will know if the bluffs location is appropriate or not until the anemometer is finished collecting data. “There is a lot of pros and cons about all kinds of energy and wind and solar are the least concerning on our health,” she said.

While Ellis has his reservations about wind, he said he supports green energy.

“Renewable energy is the right way to go, but it has to be the right kind of energy,” he said.

Best said she didn’t think residents would ever see turbines in the area.

“I feel confident that there will be no wind turbines in Lake Ontario overlooking the bluffs,” she said.

When asked if she would stand up for her residents if she and the Liberals were re-elected and the moratorium was lifted she said, “I will continue to be the voice for Scarborough-Guildwood…I will advocate for my community.”

Green Party candidate Naoshad Pochkhanawala agreed wind energy is an issue locally.

While he and the party are supportive of energy that is non-disruptive, clean and cost effective, he has an issue with the process that took place in Scarborough and understands why some residents are so upset.

“The people of the riding were bypassed,” he said. “I don’t think anyone took the time to consult with them and educate them.”

Pochkhanawala said local communities need to be consulted before a green energy project goes ahead and offered an incentive – such as lower electricity prices – to accept a project.

Laforet said he believes the issue could affect the outcome of the Scarborough-Guildwood race. “It’s very localized, but it’s also very fierce,” he said. “It’s fierce in an area where the Liberals need to win.”