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Province still controls the wind

Given the land impacts and often controversial nature, Chatham-Kent councillors would like to see more municipal control over wind turbine projects.

However, after the recent defeat of a private member’s bill, it is uncertain exactly when that would happen.

The Local Municipality Democracy Act, introduced by Prince Edward-Hastings Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith, was rejected during second reading Friday in a 45-32 vote, with the Liberal government and New Democrat members voting against it.

Chatham Coun. Anne Gilbert believes municipalities should have more authority concerning green energy, such as project location and when to say enough is enough.

Gilbert said wind power is still a divisive issue, with many in the agricultural sector supporting it, but also numerous residents opposed.

“As I travel the province, the people who are the most vocal manage to escape wind turbines,” she said. “Of course we opened the doors and said ‘welcome’. So, I suspect we are fair game for the province to establish as many as they want.”

The Green Energy Act was introduced in 2009. At that time, council expressed concern over losing its control over planning applications.

South Kent Coun. Art Stirling said the municipality was striking a responsible balance beforehand between the business merits and residential concerns.

“It’s aggravating,” he said. “I think it’s a lot better when the local community has control over its own destiny.”

He said his constituents have been quiet for the most part as of late – noting that for many, wind energy is a non-issue – but said there is a second wave of projects proposed.

“We want to be open for business, but we don’t want to be taken advantage of at the same time,” he said. “With the regulations the way they are now, there certainly is an opportunity for that to occur.”

Even if municipalities somehow wrestled back control, Stirling said he’s concerned the projects will already be built.

Gilbert said although Chatham-Kent has become a haven for wind power, it hasn’t experienced the positive economic spinoffs seen in other communities, such as new factories for turbine components.

“We have the turbines. We don’t have the jobs,” she said. “I think that says it all.”

Chatham-Kent Essex PC MPP Rick Nicholls said in a media release he was disappointed in the outcome of Friday’s vote.

“We must return decision making power to local municipalities who are in the best position to determine if and where green energy installations should be located within their communities,” he said.

However, Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley has maintained that a provincewide approach is the only way to make sure the process continues.

A patchwork approach of municipal regulations subject to frequent change amounts to “no rules at all” and would discourage investment in the industry, he said.

Bentley pledged to remain open to listening to municipal concerns – and has already heard of some – but made it clear the government will remain in control of the process.

“I’m very interested in strengthening the (system) as long as we have a provincewide approach,” he said.

– With QMI Agency files