Whether it’s the cost of electricity and propane or the building of wind turbines in his riding, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton is hearing about it from constituents.
“I think that’s the thing people are facing more than anything else – rising costs and life being unaffordable right now,” McNaughton said March 14 from his Strathroy office following a week in the area. “It affects the people locally who are running businesses, or the senior on a fixed income, or the mom and dad that have two young kids at home. Electricity bills are just too expensive.”
Those costs for Ontario residents and business owners are in fact the highest in North America – a major issue the provincial Conservatives are focusing on heading towards a possible spring election. The party is promising three steps to lower costs – two parts directly dealing with companies like NextEra, the group responsible for current and proposed wind turbine projects in the Adelaide-Metcalfe and Bornish areas, among others.
The first is abolishing Ontario’s Green Energy Act, ending all subsidies to wind and solar companies in the process.
The second would include giving veto power to municipal governments when it comes to deciding if they want wind projects within their boundaries or not.
“That was the greatest injustice of the Green Energy Act – the province took away all authority from local councils, so we would restore that and go further to give them veto power over wind projects,” McNaughton said, adding lucrative wind turbine contracts signed by land owners have caused tension and even lawsuits among neighbours in Southwestern Ontario.
“It’s pitting neighbour against neighbour – it’s very divisive. We have a premier from downtown Toronto making decisions about what’s happening in rural Ontario and they’ve created this huge rural-urban divide that needs to be fixed.”
The third phase of the plan would see the Conservatives incorporating the private sector into the Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One – traditionally government-run operations.
“Government just isn’t very good at running businesses,” McNaughton said. “It’s been going on for decades – this isn’t anything new – but we think that there needs to be some private sector involvement.”
“To me, the debate is about economics and Ontario having the highest cost of electricity just makes us the highest cost jurisdiction to do business in. It’s bad for job creation.”
Despite wind turbines going up across the area, protesters continue to fight. McNaughton urged groups like the Middlesex Lambton Wind Action Group to continue their pursuit.
“No. 1, keep at it because we are going to bring change on the energy file,” he urged the groups. “We just need to change the team that’s leading the province. I’m hoping there is going to be a spring election – I think people in rural Ontario and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex in particular are demanding change. They know the path we’re on is unsustainable … if we’re going to provide hope for the future then we have to have to fix the electricity system.”
A motion passed in December announcing Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals would triple the amount of wind turbines across Ontario has McNaughton worried. He’s concerned up to 3,000 turbines (originally 1,000) could be added to his riding, and would rather the province utilize water power from Quebec at a cheaper rate.
“We can now buy (hydro electricity) from Quebec from three to four cents a kilowatt hour,” McNaughton began. “It makes no sense why the current government has taken this approach they’re paying 80 cents a kilowatt hour for solar when we can buy it from Quebec today.”
Ultimately, McNaughton would like to see an open market and competition for the funds of Ontario taxpayers – especially when it comes to hydro and solar energy.
“I think there’s a part for solar in the mix, but they should compete on an open market,” he noted. “If they can compete, then perfect.”