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Input promised in energy project places

Ontario’s government promised in the Feb. 19 Throne speech that communities will have a say in the location of future energy projects.

That’s something the Ontario’s Green Energy Act took away from municipal councils when the Liberal government decided to throw in its lot with wind and solar energy developers.

The legislation stripped away local planning controls and put all of the power over wind and solar farm approvals into the provincial government’s hands.

On Feb. 19, Lt.-Gov. David Onley told the legislature in the Throne speech that communities “must have a voice in their future” and local populations should be “involved from the beginning” if gas plants, casinos, wind plants or quarries are coming to their hometown.

“Because our economy can benefit from these things, but only if we have willing hosts.”

Lambton is already home to three large solar farms and a handful of wind turbines, but two large wind farms planned for Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton Shores and Warwick Township are seeking provincial approvals.

“That has to be a positive if she’s at least willing to talk,” Don McGugan, Mayor of Brooke-Alvinston Township, said about the first Throne speech from the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Several wind turbines went up recently in Brooke-Alvinston and McGugan also became alarmed when township council was powerless to stop a small ground-mounted solar farm from being built on vacant lots in one of Alvinston’s residential neighbourhoods.

“If they at least open the doors up and we can have a dialogue, that’s a positive,” McGugan said.

After he raised concerns about the solar development, Ontario changed its rules and no longer allows new ground-mounted solar energy projects on residential property, or next to it.

Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey, a Progressive Conservative, said he’s skeptical about the government’s pledge to involve communities in decisions about future projects.

“I see nothing that convinced me there was going to be any more local control,” Bailey said.

In the past, he said, “you could have all the input you wanted” but projects still went ahead where the developers wanted them.

Lambton Warden Todd Case said he was encouraged by the promise for more consultation.

“It’s great to see the government is starting to look at doing things differently, and start to communicate with the people who are affected,” he said.

The Throne speech and its promise comes as Liberals have been losing seats in rural ridings in recent years.

“They’re still in a lot of trouble because they have forgotten about us,” McGugan said.

“It will take more than just talking.”