Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne concedes there are flaws in the Green Energy Act (GEA), but that admission comes far too late for many of Dufferin’s rural residents.
“We didn’t do a good enough job putting a good process in place,” Wynne told The Banner on Thursday (June 13). “I know that people would like to roll back the clock. I don’t have the power to do that.”
Presiding over likely the highest turbine-to-person dense municipality in Ontario, Melancthon Mayor Bill Hill takes little solace in the premier’s acknowledgment.
“It’s too late,” he said. “(Residents) might say, ‘Finally, they get it.’ The unfortunate part is they aren’t going to really do anything about it.”
In an attempt to correct course, however, the provincial government plans to tune up its green energy rules, and give municipalities more say in the approval process.
Municipalities still won’t possess the much coveted veto power over projects, plus any existing energy applications will abide by the old set of rules.
“Municipalities need a stronger voice and that is the protocol we’re putting in place,” Wynne said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure going forward we have a better process.”
While that’s nice to hear, both Hill and Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver feel their municipalities should have been given more of a say in the first place. Both remain skeptical, despite the province’s promise of change.
“After being burned a number of times, we are the wait-and-see type of municipality,” MacIver said. “I’m from Missouri. Show me.”
For example, green energy developers are already mandated to consult with host municipalities. Having dealt with a number of developers, Hill doesn’t believe they have taken comments from his council or residents seriously.
“There is supposed to be a consultative process. It means nothing,” he said. “I’m not impressed with the changes. I don’t believe it’s going to make any difference at the end of the day.”
The next wave of turbines likely to arrive in Melancthon come in the form of Dufferin Wind Power Inc.’s 99 MW wind farm, which received Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the province last week.
According to Dennis Sanford, president of Wind Resistance of Melancthon, the process is stacked up against those opposing the province’s green energy agenda. The government’s “new thinking” doesn’t really change much, Sanford said.
“This sort of minor course correction by the Liberals is really too little, too late,” he explained. “They didn’t do it right, without considering the consequences, and have rammed through a lot of things that are just not wanted by the rural municipalities.”
The only way to change Sanford’s mind would be if municipalities were given what they’ve clamoured years for – veto power. While provincial officials say municipalities will gain a stronger voice, veto power isn’t on the table.
“This is an effort to appease by Wynne. The details of the new rules show that the core of their program still exists. Municipalities cannot refuse,” Sanford said. “It is, like I say, smoke and mirrors.”
Although some might dream of the Planning Act days when municipalities could challenge energy projects to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), MacIver doesn’t want to see that come back full circle. He doesn’t recall it being much better for municipalities then either.
“It burned up a tremendous amount of our time, taxpayers’ money, people’s money,” he said. “And the end result? The province was still pushing forward.”
MacIver is still unclear how much power the province plans to give to municipalities, and in what form. Meanwhile, existing applications are proceeding “as if nothing has happened,” he said.
“We want to have the ability to just say, ‘Yes we’re a willing municipality or no we aren’t,’ and that is it,” MacIver said. “If their priority is wind turbines everywhere in Ontario, regardless of home ownership and property rights, then say that.”
Amaranth and Melancthon have both urged the province to place a moratorium on all wind turbine development until independent health studies are done. Hill would rather see the province act on that front.
“(People) still have those concerns. Most concerns have never been addressed,” he said. “Do the study, get it resolved, once and for all.”
While the premier can’t change the past, or subject current or existing applications to the province’s new green energy regime, Wynne prefers to focus on the future.
“Contracts are in different states of approval. Some of them will go forward, some of them won’t. I don’t have complete control over that,” Wynne said. “I do have more control over what the process looks like going forward.”