It was the Ontario government’s decision to close the Lambton Generating Station that convinced Larry O’Neill to tear up his Liberal Party membership card.
The veteran municipal politician in Enniskillen Township, past county warden, former provincial Liberal candidate and long-time party worker calls himself an independent these days.
The Liberal government’s decision to shut down the coal-fired plant didn’t make sense to O’Neill, just like its Green Energy Act and its rush to build wind farms in rural communities doesn’t make sense to the retired farmer and Chemical Valley worker who spent 16 years in municipal politics.
“I’m just boggled by it,” O’Neill said.
“This has got very little to do with a clean environment for Ontario, and it’s got all to do with big money.”
He’s worried about the impact wind turbines have on the health of people living next to them.
“The question I have for the people who say there’s no health issue with them, is, ‘Would they want a house within 500 metres of one of them?’”
O’Neill said he’s also concerned about the impact on residential property values, and the quality of life in rural communities.
“I totally oppose the things.”
So, he recently joined the executive of Conservation of Rural Enniskillen (CORE), a citizens’ group opposing plans to build wind farms in the central Lambton township.
Learning that representatives from several wind company have been knocking on doors in Enniskillen, and seeking land to lease for wind farms, convinced him to get involved.
“The township’s under siege,” O’Neill said. “We’re looking at possibly 100 of these towers.”
He said many people have worked hard on township council over the years to make Enniskillen a better municipality, only to see the province come along and take away local control over wind energy projects.
O’Neill said he sympathizes with municipal politicians in places like Enniskillen and neighbouring Plympton-Wyoming who are struggling to deal with the fallout of controversial wind projects.
“They’re doing all they possibly can.”
He believes it helps a municipal council to have the support of community groups, like CORE.
The group formed after township resident Chad Burke and his family organized a community meeting earlier this year to spread the word about wind companies targeting Enniskillen.
That meeting attracted a large crowd to the community centre in Oil Springs, including O’Neill, who became a co-chairperson of the group.
“If I can help these folks, anyway I can, to stop this, then I will,” he said.
But, O’Neill said he doesn’t expect the current Liberal government to change its course on wind energy.
“It won’t change until the government changes, that’s the way I look at it.”
O’Neill also said the Liberal Party brought it’s current troubles in rural Ontario on itself.
“They should have stood back and went at a slower pace, got community input, municipal input,” he said.
Rural Ontario voters already let the Liberals know what they think of wind energy when the party lost seats outside of urban centres in the last election, O’Neill said.
And, the once strong Liberal supporter in rural Lambton has little sympathy left for the current version of the party.
“They’re going to get what they deserve,” he said.
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