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Council talks out of both sides of its mouth

City councillors are asking the provincial government to do what they say, not what they do.

In a move some believe sends a laughably mixed message, council has voted 11-5 to lobby the Ontario government to lift its province-wide moratorium from offshore wind energy projects.

The request comes less than two months after council slapped its own moratorium on new wind turbine developments within city limits.

Councillor Brenda Johnson, who led the charge on the local moratorium, says the new move flies in the face of the city’s own position that more studies are needed to prove that wind energy projects do not pose health or environmental risks.

Johnson points out that’s the very reason the province imposed a moratorium on offshore wind farms.

“How can we advocate the removal of a provincial moratorium when we have one of our own for the same reason?” Johnson said.

The answer is apparently simple: Jobs.

Councillor Judi Partridge spearheaded the vote that aligns Hamilton with the City of Kingston and a consortium of manufacturers and suppliers of wind power parts and expertise.

She says council’s support for overturning the province-wide ban is not a mixed message.

“My position is the message we’re sending is that Hamilton is open for clean energy business, and we need to send that message out loud and clear.”

Partridge says several Hamilton companies are ready to tap into an estimated $850 million in economic benefits from the wind energy supply chain, which would stimulate new economic growth in Hamilton.

“I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t support our local businesses,” said Partridge, who believes Hamilton’s own moratorium is “misguided.”

“I believe this motion provides us an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we’re open for business.’ And as far as manufacturing wind turbines in Hamilton, I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Speaking in support of the motion, Mayor Bob Bratina says the city can’t turn its back on local companies such as Bermingham Foundation Solutions, which recently expanded in Hamilton after flirting with relocating elsewhere.

Bermingham is one of several local companies that are part of a growing effort to get the province to reverse the position it staked out in February that more scientific studies are needed for lake-based wind farms.

Ontario’s moratorium does not affect land-based wind farms.

Partridge and city staff originally wanted council to join Kingston and Windstream Energy Inc. in forming a consortium to promote the fabrication and installation of 100 offshore wind turbines in the Wolfe Island Shoals, located approximately 5 km off Wolfe Island in eastern Lake Ontario, near Kingston.

Windstream had the only feed-in tariff contract for the project.

But staff’s proposal was dropped after a number of councillors, led by Brad Clark, expressed concerns they were springing the agreement on them sight unseen and without adequate explanations.

The new motion directs the mayor to provide a letter to Windstream supporting the consortium and to work with Kingston to get the offshore ban lifted.

It’s open to debate whether or not council is being hypocritical here. But they sure seem to be speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

On the one hand, they’re against wind turbine developments in Hamilton; on the other, they want to profit from developments elsewhere.

At the very least, as councillor Terry Whitehead notes, the issue serves as a warning that council shouldn’t take policy positions before it understands their full implications.