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Wind energy town hall meeting draws hundreds

Anger and frustration were the common emotions expressed at the town hall meeting on wind turbines hosted by Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece.

About 300 people attended the public meeting held at the Elma Memorial Community Centre on March 14 which featured a panel of speakers that included Pettapiece, Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson and Nipissing MPP and energy critic Vic Fedeli.

Although Fedeli sits as the PC energy critic, he said his goal was to present an unbiased opinion of wind turbines and the Green Energy Act.

“These are not numbers that anyone else has provided, these are not numbers that are made up,” Fedeli said. “While I may sound political, the facts themselves are indisputable.”

Fedeli was serving as the mayor of North Bay when the Green Energy Act was first introduced, and said he was concerned the act took municipalities out of the approval process for new renewable energy projects.

“They took away the power of a municipality to get involved in any zoning of wind or solar projects,” he said. “They did not want any public meetings to get in the way of wind or solar projects that the government was going to force on us.”

According to Fedeli, the labeling of “dirty coal” and “green energy” by the Liberals is all a matter of branding, and that any opponents who speak against the Green Energy Act are seen as anti-green.

Although the focus of the Green Energy Act has been to replace coal-fired power plants with renewable energy, Fedeli said the province’s focus on wind production tells a different story.

He noted that for every megawatt of wind energy produced in Ontario last year, one megawatt of water energy was taken out of production.

“It replaced clean, affordable reliable green energy that we have used in Ontario for over 100 years,” he said. “Water power is one of the greatest renewables known, yet we have replaced water power with wind.”

A report from the auditor general stated $300 million in hydroelectricity was lost last year, and Fedeli said steam was vented from power plants because the province is generating power far beyond the demand and driving up the cost of hydro.

Fedeli said the auditor general reported that from 2008 to 2010, hydro bills increased by 26 per cent, and another 46 per cent increase is projected by 2014. Faced with higher bills than they can afford, industries have left Ontario in search of more competitive rates, he added.

“We’re spilling water, venting steam and draining jobs. Not a very nice legacy for the province of Ontario.”

The loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years has created an even lower demand for hydro, Fedeli said, adding Ontario ends up selling excess power to the US and Quebec at a loss, amounting to $420 million in the first 10 months of 2011. In turn, this cheap hydro can be used as incentive to lure even more companies from Ontario, he said.

“The more we give them cheap power, the more companies leave. It’s a downward spiral that we just need to end, and it needs to end abruptly.”

The panel of speakers at last week’s meeting also included Perth Federation of Agriculture president Brent Royce, who advocated open communication between neighbours – and for property owners to consult a good lawyer before signing any contracts.

North Perth councillor and Wind Concerns Ontario representative Warren Howard focused on the health impacts of wind turbines. Specifically, Howard said there is a land lease for a turbine only one kilometre from the nearby Elma Public school, where autistic students attend.

“Autistic children, I understand, are very susceptible to this,” he said. “It’s not something we can continue to ignore.”

The floor was opened to questions from residents, and a line was formed around the back of the hall with people wishing to have their say.

Bornholm resident Dean Trentowsky approached the podium with a heavy bag of reading material, just a portion of what he’s collected on the wind turbine issue. Trentowsky said urban residents need to have their eyes opened to the problems being faced in rural Ontario.

“We’re tired of being treated as second- and third-class citizens in this province,” he said.

Pettapiece agreed there is a divide between rural and urban residents in the Liberal government’s energy policy, and pointed to remarks made by Premier Dalton McGuinty about respecting the wishes of Toronto city council while ignoring rural municipalities over wind projects.

Saint Columban farmer Tom Melady also spoke at the meeting, stating wind projects will tear communities apart and pit neighbours against each other.

“In rural Ontario, with wind turbines we all lose,” he said.