Recent changes to the province’s green energy program are “bad news” for Haldimand County residents opposed to wind turbines coming to their community, says MPP Toby Barrett.
Last month’s announcement by Energy Minister Chris Bentley fell short of what many town halls had wanted: veto power over wind and solar projects proposed for their jurisdictions.
Instead, municipalities in favour of hosting them will now be given “priority” status by the province, essentially directing projects to those communities.
“Bentley’s announcement is going to make things worse, certainly in Haldimand County,” Barrett said in an interview. “If your municipality is in support . . . you get moved to the front of the line.”
The problem, said Barrett, the opposition environment critic for the Progressive Conservatives, is that Haldimand council has struck a deal with the private companies coming to build the turbines that will see them pay higher property taxes.
The increase will put an extra $2 million a year into the county’s coffers for the next 20 years.
The deal, however, will be interpreted as Haldimand favouring the projects, bringing it “to the beginning of the list,” Barrett said.
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt said the numerous green energy projects proposed for his community, which include large solar farms, are “so far down the pipe” they can’t be stopped now and defended council’s decision to strike a deal with the companies.
When the Nanticoke coal-fired station that sits in Haldimand closes in a couple of years, property taxes collected from the site will fall, dealing “a significant blow” to the county’s treasury, he noted.
The extra $2 million a year from the deal represents 5% of what the county collects from taxpayers, he said.
“It’s $40 million over 20 years. It’s a significant amount of money for our community.”
Despite the formation of an active citizens group opposed to wind projects in Haldimand, public opinion in the community is in fact “split,” Hewitt added, noting many farmers stand to gain by renting their land out for turbines and solar panels.
Hewitt said he is “philosophically” in favour of the movement towards cleaner energy and said public leaders need to strike “a balance between what is good for the environment and what is affordable.”
Norfolk Mayor Dennis Travale said Bentley’s announcement is “unclear about what new role, if any, has been given to municipalities.”
He charged Queen’s Park with trying to pass the responsibility for something that has become a contentious issue across rural Ontario onto town halls without giving them any power to deal with it.
Residents have risen up in protest against wind projects, citing concerns over the health impacts of living next to them as well as the devaluation of their property values.
Feelings have become so hot over the issue that the McGuinty government’s stance has been directly attributed to the Liberals losing a number of seats in rural Ontario in last fall’s election.
Barrett said newly-elected Conservative MPPs told fellow caucus members “the reason we are here is . . . because of the Dalton McGuinty green energy policy.”
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