Regional politicians have thrown their support behind decisions by the townships of Wainfleet and West Lincoln to declare themselves unwilling hosts to industrial wind turbine projects.
That decision by regional council Thursday night, which was greeted by loud applause by anti-turbine residents in the regional council chambers, came despite a warning that supporting the municipalities’ stand could put senior regional staff in an awkward conflict of interest.
Ken Brothers, acting chief administrative officer for the Region, tried to get politicians to hold off on voting, saying he’d prefer to report back with possible legal or financial ramifications.
The Region has for several years worked with Rankin Construction on plans for large wind turbines in Niagara, and is a 50 per cent partner in the joint venture. Brothers said three senior staffers with the Region are on that company’s board of directors, meaning they could be in a conflict because they have a financial responsibility to the company and yet regional council would be backing the municipalities’ fight against wind power.
The Region is also in the middle of negotiating road allowances with wind power companies, he said.
“There’s likely a number of points of conflict of interest or consequences,” he said.
Brothers also noted the Region declared itself the ‘Green Energy Capital of Canada,’ and has adopted policies allowing for wind turbines.
Grimsby Coun. Debbie Zimmerman said she was “very concerned” about what the vote could mean in terms of financial or legal challenges related to the Region’s wind turbine contracts. She suggested council members get a legal opinion behind closed doors.
Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti wanted the matter deferred so the Region could get a legal handle on the issue, but a vote on that lost by a one-vote margin.
Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs brought forward a motion, which West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner seconded, calling on the Region to support the municipalities’ request to the province to be deemed unwilling hosts for turbines.
Jeffs said new premier Kathleen Wynne’s recent throne speech identified the need to find willing hosts for wind turbines. In late May, Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said municipalities will be given a much bigger say in where, or if, wind energy projects are located. Local towns and cities say their planning authority was eliminated on wind projects by provincial legislation.
“I’m asking for council tonight to support Niagara and our rural constituents’ right to say no,” Jeffs told regional council.
Joyner said the Region’s support was critical, and said industrial wind turbine projects were “hastily imposed” on his town and on Wainfleet. Those municipalities aren’t opposed to the province’s Green Energy Act, but they are opposed to losing local planning authority, he said.
“We’re losing our jurisdiction and we’re losing our authority,” he said.
Turbines planned for those communities will be the largest in Canada, soaring some 33 storeys tall, but the proper studies of possible health impacts haven’t been done, Joyner said.
Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe, noting a firm that manufactures wind turbine blades is moving into his city, said the Region needed to support Wainfleet and West Lincoln.
“It is moral support… to make their choice with respect to locating wind turbines,” he said.
St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski said the issue of wind turbines “is a very charged and emotional” one. Voting to back Wainfleet and West Lincoln was a “symbolic” gesture the Region needed to make, he said.
Petrowski pointed out that even the provincial government recently slashed nearly $4 billion from its green energy agreement with Samsung.
“Clearly, even the province is pulling back on its commitment to wind energy at this time,” he said.
The vote to support Wainfleet and West Lincoln passed with a clear 15-8 majority.
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