Ontario changes are coming “very soon” that would give municipalities more control over green energy projects within their boundaries.
But the head of at least one rural community worries that might be too little, too late for areas where wind turbines are an impending reality and longstanding annoyance.
A working group of four Liberal cabinet ministers is reviewing ways to improve the consultation process for green energy projects such as wind and solar installations and including gas-fired power plants, confirmed Beckie Codd-Downey, a spokesperson for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli.
She said the group – it involves the ministers of municipal and rural affairs, environment and energy – is looking at a number of options to improve local control.
“Going forward, we need to give communities a strong role in the planning process so that we get these decisions right the first time,” she said.
While one Liberal source said the new rules might come before MPPs take their summer break, Codd-Downey said the timing isn’t set.
“The minister has said he hopes to see something in the near future,” she said.
That “something” worries Don Shipway, Mayor of North Middlesex. Dozens of turbines are planned in and around the rural municipality.
Most, he fears are so far along in planning there’s no reversing them now.
“Myself, I think we’re five years too late in fighting it.”
The former Dalton McGuinty government enraged many rural residents by taking away local control over where wind turbines can be built, a move widely seen as contributing to the Liberals’ wipeout in rural ridings in the last election.
Shipway is worried the province’s tweaking might mean it’s handing over responsibility for decision-making on projects that are half-planned or half-completed; in essence, making the municipalities fix a problem they didn’t create.
“They would just be saying to us, ‘clean up the damn mess,’ and a mess it is,” he said.
The Liberals have pushed green energy projects while moving to shut down Ontario’s dirty coal-fired power plants, paying hefty premiums – more than ratepayers are charged for power – to generate the electricity. Part of the strategy is also to build green-energy components in Ontario.
But the issue has angered rural Ontario, which says the rules don’t allow more than minimal local say in the location of power projects.
Turbine opponents have been vociferous, saying the windmills – besides too expensive for taxpayers – pose health and environmental issues,
Last year, then-energy minister Chris Bentley revised the green rules so the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) would give higher approval priority for projects backed by communities; lower priority, if they objected.
Thousands of turbines are either already built, approved or planned in Ontario.
Several municipalities, including the Township of Norwich, have declared themselves “unwilling hosts” for wind farms.
But that’s made little difference.
Rookie premier Kathleen Wynne toured Ontario asking rural residents their priorities and her party has been conducting talks on rural issues.
One area Liberal riding president said he’s been told green changes are being vetted, to table before the summer break.
“People want more input on a local level and we should revisit how those things are done,” said Mike Radan of Lambton-KentMiddlesex.
“That seems to be the burr under the saddle – that these decisions are made without local input.”
Shipway said North Middlesex is looking at appealing the OPA’s go-ahead for wind giant NextEra to build 45 turbines at its Bornish project. The municipality is also considering setting hefty deposit fees for each turbine, to safeguard their eventual decommissioning.
But Shipway said no decisions have been made yet.
“Council has lost a lot of sleep over it, I know they have,” he said.
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