OTTAWA – A coalition of 62 communities in Ontario have declared themselves “unwilling hosts” to provincially approved windmills and they’re demanding that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government allow municipal governments to choose whether and where to put industrial wind projects.
A group of residents in North Gower, a region of Ottawa that the province pegged for a large-scale wind-power project, is supportive of the coalition’s demands, but Ottawa is not officially a member of the unwilling hosts coalition.
Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak told 1,600 delegates gathered at the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference this week that, if elected, he would “scrap the Green Energy Act” entirely. If communities don’t want windmills, the municipality should not be “forced” to house “industrial wind turbines,” Hudak said.
New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath said “short-sighted” decisions on the energy file have created a needless backlash against wind power in communities that feel inadequately consulted.”
The Liberal government’s 2009 Green Energy Act gave the province control over the location of wind energy projects but, in May, the province announced changes that will require developers to work more closely with municipalities. Energy projects that are part of a co-op, owned by a First Nation or at least half-owned by a municipality, will get priority for the Feed-in Tariff program “which is good, because if the private company has community support already, then the project will be more successful,” said Kristopher Stevens, executive director of Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA).
To that end, Wynne has asked the OSEA, a non-profit organization, to raise awareness in communities slated for the turbine projects about the benefits of hosting, including the financial gains that can come from being power generators in a cash-strapped economy.
“It’s going to require a transformation in the way we think about energy,” said Stevens, who noted one of the best things about the Green Energy Act is that it supports smaller scale projects.
“What we want is to have lots of points of light – sort of like the Internet – so that if part of the system goes off, the rest of the system can isolate it and keep running.”
He said such a change would prevent blackouts like the one that happened in much of Eastern Ontario and the Northeastern United States 10 years ago. “What happened in Ohio affected everyone because were pushing power from one centralized place,” said Stevens.
So far, 62 municipalities across Ontario have declared themselves not willing hosts to wind-power projects, citing health problems and loss in property values as their main concerns.
However, while research into the issue is limited. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, in a 2010 report, concluded that “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
The report said that while some residents might find the sound and vibrations from nearby wind turbines annoying, the sound is not sufficient to cause hearing problems and there is no scientific evidence the vibrations cause health issues.
The report recommended that “community engagement at the outset of planning for wind turbines is important and may alleviate health concerns.”
Health Canada has launched a major study into the effect of wind turbines on health.
The Marlborough 1 project in North Gower is on hold until the province announces its new procurement process. However wind developer Prowind, headquartered in Germany, has said it intends to reapply when the new process is in place.
In a letter to Ottawa Wind Concerns, a North Gower anti-wind turbine group, Mayor Jim Watson reiterated that the province is responsible for granting approval for wind projects and called the regulatory regime “quite onerous.” However, before any project is approved, he said, the city “will review all documentation and information relating to the proposed development and fully participate in any such consultative process.”
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