Local politicians and leaders of community groups took turns Thursday piling on the Wynne government, saying new rules for wind farms fall far short of what’s needed.
The rules, revealed by Sun Media this week and outlined Thursday by Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, promise to increase consultation with affected municipalities.
“Unless we can get full veto, I just don’t know if it’s going to be very good for us,” Middlesex County Warden Brad Richards said. “Don’t do it halfway.”
The Liberals still have their work cut out for them in rural Ontario – where they were nearly wiped off the map in the 2011 election – because residents there are going to be “very, very suspicious” about the changes, said political scientist Peter Woolstencroft of the University of Waterloo.
“People will question the commitment.”
The best way to win over rural Ontario would be to give both sides – the province and municipalities – a veto over large projects, Woolstencroft said.
Many communities in Middlesex County already have wind farms, and more are planned.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said municipalities will be consulted before major projects proceed.
“It’s true that there’s not a veto power involved in this process, but we always have to balance the greater good with the local good,” Wynne said. “I hope it meets the needs of the municipality but we’re going to work on it.”
One critic called the new renewable energy rules “nothing but a smokescreen,” an attempt by the governing Liberals to win back the favour of rural Ontario.
“It does nothing for those communities that have wind turbines or have massive projects going in,” said Lisa Thompson, Progressive Conservative MPP for Huron-Bruce.
Many municipalities are passing “unwilling host” resolutions to signal their opposition to any wind projects being located within their borders.
“This has divided communities and pitted neighbours against neighbours and families against families,” said Monte McNaughton, Progressive Conservative MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, where a handful of municipalities have passed the resolutions.
Tory MPP Jim Wilson, whose own Simcoe-Grey riding is in an uproar over a plan to build eight 150-metre wind turbines near the Collingwood Airport, said the government has made a “horrible mess” of existing renewable energy projects, creating real resentment in rural Ontario.
Because communities won’t have final say over the projects, the changes mean little, said Joan Morris, of the East Oxford Community Alliance that opposes a wind farm in that county.
“It would seem at first glance that it’s more of a pre-election reaction to rural Ontario to try to win votes,” Morris said. “I would like to see a full stop on the entire (wind energy) program.”
Those who support wind energy said the changes are a step in the right direction.
Robert Hornung, president of pro-wind CanWEA, said the new rules can only mean more prosperity for the province.
“Ontario’s progressive approach to renewable energy development has successfully attracted billions in new investment and helped revitalize the manufacturing sector, and wind energy is now a very cost-competitive source of clean, renewable electricity generation.”
The changes will give communities a stronger voice in renewable energy projects, Chiarelli said.
“Ontario is committed to building clean, reliable energy to support our families, businesses, schools and hospitals,” he said.
“It’s also clear that we need to make changes to increase local control over the siting of renewable energy projects.”
– With files from Antonella Artuso, QMI Agency Queen’s Park Bureau
WHAT THEY SAID
“I think the Wynne government is on the right track reopening discussions and reaching out to the municipalities.”
Don McKay, Oxford County warden
“Overall, it’s a step towards what we’ve been proposing. . . . It’s up to anyone who gets a project going to win over a community. There should be a priority to community support.”
Peter Tabuns, NDP energy critic
“The focus should be on the municipalities. If they want to host (wind turbines), they should, but if they don’t, they shouldn’t be forced to.”
Russ Powers, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario
“The Liberals have been awful slow at getting the message that this has split municipalities, split communities.”
Bob Bailey, Progressive Conservative MPP for Sarnia-Lambton
“(This is) a lot of talking and no action.”
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario
New rules for approving large wind turbine projects:
– No more feed-in tariff (FIT) program. Replaced with competitive procurement process
– Developers must work with municipalities before seeking Ontario Power Authority approval
– Property taxes paid on wind turbine towers will go up
– Funding for municipalities for local energy plans
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