While several politicians walked out on Premier Dalton McGuinty Monday in protest of his government’s green energy policies, West Lincoln’s mayor stood firmly planted in the front row.
“I felt that walking out on the premier’s speech accomplishes nothing,” said Mayor Douglas Joyner, whose community of West Lincoln is subject to two industrial wind turbine projects which will spin out a combined 239 megawatts. “I would rather look the premier in the eye when he makes references to saving on greenhouse gas emissions and cheaper energy bills.
“Many municipal councils, like West Lincoln, are now caught between valid local residents concerns and the Green Energy Act,” he added.
McGuinty was speaking Monday at the Ontario Good Roads Association/Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. During his speech, several delegates walked out in protest of the way the government has forced wind turbine projects, like those proposed by Niagara Region Wind Corporation and IPC Energy, on municipalities.
“I cannot help but observe, as you did, that some folks left when I took my position here at the podium,” McGuinty told the audience of local politicians from across the province. “I know it’s about clean energy. I support clean energy; I support the tens of thousands of jobs that it creates. I knew this could happen, but I came anyway.”
Shortly after the premier delivered his speech, he made a promise to give municipalities more say on green energy projects.
He told reporters the province will “do a better job in terms of incorporating the local perspective on this” when it completes a review of its feed-in-tariff program for green energy projects by the end of March.
“We will be adopting some of the recommendations put forward by rural Ontario so we can achieve a better balance,” said McGuinty, stopping short of saying local municipalities would be given veto power to block wind and solar projects.
Joyner said rural Ontario municipalities are tired of the premier’s “kumbaya, around the fire, let’s do it together” speeches that “talk down” to rural residents. While he was pleased to hear the government would be looking at local concerns, the mayor remained skeptical.
“The premier said that he has listened very carefully to recommendations put forward by rural Ontario and that he will do a better job in terms of incorporating the local perspective however …,” Joyner told The News. “It remains to be seen if the McGuinty government truly has listened to rural municipalities like West Lincoln but I guess we’ll find out when the Feed-in-Tariff report comes out the end of March,” Joyner added in reference to the government’s two-year review of the program which guarantees approved green energy proponents a set rate of return over a set period.
Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP and provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak also remained skeptical of the premier’s promises made Monday.
“I’m always hopeful, otherwise I wouldn’t be in the business, but a bit skeptical,” Hudak said Tuesday. “The only way is to amend the Green Energy Act that stripped away the municipality’s ability to have a say on projects in their home communities and restore local decision making.”
That was one of the main planks in the Conservative party’s platform in the lead up to the October 2011 election, and a position Hudak has stood strong on.
“But I have not heard that Dalton McGuinty has the appetite to do so,” said Hudak, noting municipalities have more say on chip trucks and coffee shops than massive wind towers. “I am afraid this is nothing more than a half measure.”
He said the fact that municipal leaders walked out during the premier’s speech shows just how frustrated Ontarians are with the issue.
“If we helped budge Dalton McGuinty, that’s great,” Hudak said. “If not, we will not stop until we get the job done.”
Just hours after McGuinty promised his government would give municipalities more say on wind and solar projects, Energy Minister Chris Bentley echoed those comments.
“We’re not giving every municipality the right to set their own rules, but we are taking a look at the approach,” Bentley told reporters at Queen’s Park, speaking of his review of the FIT program. “We are looking for ways to make sure that voices, (who) may not feel they have been heard in the way they would like to have been heard, can be heard in a stronger and better way in the future.”
To Cam Pritchard, spokesperson for the West Lincoln Wind Action Group, McGuinty’s comments are just wind.
“McGuinty made no mention of a moratorium in his speech to the delegates at the conference or in his interviews afterwards,” said Pritchard, noting West Lincoln and 78 other Ontario municipalities have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on industrial wind turbine projects. “Obviously this shows that he’s still not listening.
Pritchard was also concerned that by remaining for McGuinty’s remarks, Mayor Joyner is sending a mixed message to local residents. “Unfortunately, our mayor misses the opportunity to stand up and be counted with the other courageous elected officials who are fed up with being ignored, given no respect to the multitude of serious local concerns.”
As for McGuinty’s comments themselves, Pritchard, like Joyner and Hudak, is skeptical.
“As for his ‘more municipal input’ at best it will be token, perhaps we’ll get to pick the colour of these industrial monstrosities,” Pritchard quipped.
— With files from Torstar News Service
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