Changes are expected “very soon” to give municipalities more power regarding the location of green energy projects, but it doesn’t instill much hope in a local anti-wind advocate.
“I don’t imagine it will take any (wind turbines) down that are there,” said Lisa Michaud, a member of Chatham-Kent Wind Action Group.
The Thamesville-area woman joined the group after her family launched a lawsuit against Suncor Energy in 2011. The lawsuit claims they have suffered such symptoms as vertigo, nausea and sleep disruption caused by the Kent Breeze Wind Farm being located near their home.
She doesn’t believe any rule changes will have much of an impact, because she feels the Municipality of Chatham-Kent supports green energy projects.
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 as well as natural gas power plants, confirmed Beckie Codd-Downey, spokesperson for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli.
She said the group – which involves the ministers of municipal affairs, 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,” Codd-Downey said.
While one Liberal source said the new rules might come before provincial legislators take their summer break, Codd-Downey said the timing is not yet set.
“The Minister has said he hopes to see something in the near future.”
Michaud said she would like to know what the government’s definition of soon is, asking is it 2013 or 2016?
She said her family wants to sell their home and move, but can’t get an answer to where they could relocate within Chatham-Kent and be guaranteed wind turbines won’t be erected there in the future.
“Nobody can give us that information,” Michaud said. “The wind companies tell us to call the MOE (Ministry of Environment) and the MOE doesn’t tell us anything.”
The provincial Liberals have committed to building a power system less dependent on fossil fuels and more reliant on renewable energy. It also pays a premium to energy companies that use home-grown components, a measure intended to create green jobs and work towards Ontario’s energy self-reliance.
But the issue has enraged rural communities, who say the rules don’t allow them more than minimal say in where or how the green installations are located.
Wind turbine opponents have been particularly vociferous, saying the giant windmills pose health hazards and environmental issues, in addition to being too expensive for any benefit they might bring taxpayers.
Late last year, then-energy minister Chris Bentley revised green rules so that the Ontario Power Authority would give higher approval priority for projects if host communities supported them; lower priority if communities objected.
Thousands of turbines are either erected, approved or planned for various areas of the province.
Several municipalities have declared themselves “unwilling hosts” to wind farms. But their objections have so far made little difference.
Premier Kathleen Wynne toured the province asking rural residents their priorities and the Liberal Party of Ontario has been conducting roundtable discussions as part of their Rural Roots focus on re-setting policy with the needs of non-urban residents in mind.
Mike Radan, president of the Liberal riding association in Lambton Kent Middlesex, said he has been told that green policy changes are being vetted at the ministerial level and the intent is to table it before the legislature lets out for the summer.
“People want more input on a local level and we should revisit how those things are done,” Radan said.
“That seems to be the burr under the saddle, that these decisions are made without local input.”
But that is changing, the Liberals insist.
As the Conservatives continue to push for answers on how two natural-gas power plants were cancelled in urban areas and relocated to rural areas at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars – the Tories say it was a crass attempt to gain votes and the Liberals say it was out of concern for popthe safety of near neighbours – the Liberals also announced last week they would change how such projects are planned.
The government said it has asked the Ontario Power Authority and Independent Electircla System Operator to develop a new regional energy-planning process based on input from municipalities, communities and the energy sector.
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