Those opposed to wind farm developments in their communities need to find a local champion.
That was the advice Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and one of his guest speakers gave Tuesday during a town hall meeting at the Davedi Club.
“The battle is won by the local community,” said Warren Howard, of Wind Concerns Ontario, who spoke about his involvement in successfully opposing a wind farm near his home of Listowel. “I think if you can get organized, you can win.”
Howard said it’s up to local communities to take up the fight against unwanted wind developments. And, although the province has taken away local control under the Planning Act over where the large turbines can be built, he said there are still available options at the municipal level.
“You can fight these developments. It can work,” said Howard, who served as a municipal councillor through much of the battle against the wind farm proposal in his community.
His group tried a variety of strategies and was able to tie up the process, turning to municipal bylaws and regulations outside the Planning Act. Howard said his group eventually won out, with an announcement in December that the project had been cancelled.
That sort of grassroots opposition, however, has already been seen locally, with one developer abandoning a proposed 150-megawatt wind farm in the Mattawa area after hundreds of residents and community groups spoke out against the project.
The same sort of opposition may also be brewing against a similar-sized wind farm proposal in Merrick Township by the same company.
North Bay resident Diana Chevrier, a member of Antoine First Nation, was among those who objected to the Mattawa-area project. And Chevrier, along with family members and friends, is now focusing on the Merrick proposal.
She was among about 100 people to attend Fedeli’s town hall meeting, which also included remarks from Ray Beaudry of the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy, a group that failed in its fight against the McLean’s Mountain wind farm project.
Beaudry told the crowd that large swaths of 100-year-old hardwood trees were clearcut to make way for the turbines, and he warned about potential pitfalls in the process.
One woman told the crowd she left her home after suffering ill health effects as a result of living close to wind turbines near the shore of Lake Erie, suggesting health issues related to wind turbines are real despite contrary arguments by the government and the wind energy industry.
Fedeli agreed, noting he encountered many tragic and real stories about the adverse affects of wind turbines in his previous role as Conservative energy critic.
Most of Fedeli’s remarks, however, focused on what he described as a flawed provincial “green energy” plan and the resulting economic fallout.
Much of his presentation included direct quotes from 2011 and 2014 reports by Ontario auditor generals on the province’s renewable energy strategy.
“It didn’t work . . . it failed,” said Fedeli, noting the province is generating no more green energy today than before the plan was rolled out, although $50 billion has been spent and 300 manufacturing jobs have been lost, largely due to the high cost of electricity.
He said 25% of the power that was generated in Ontario before the introduction of the province’s renewable energy strategy was considered “green” energy that came from hydro-electric stations. He said hydro is now responsible for 22% of Ontario’s power with wind accounting for 3%.
The problem with wind power, he said, is that it is intermittent and is often produced out of sync with demand at off-peak and off-season times.
But because the province is obligated under agreements with suppliers to purchase wind power when it’s generated, Fedeli said Ontario was forced to subsidize the sale of excess power to neighbouring jurisdictions such as Quebec and U.S. states to the tune of about $2.6 billion between 2006 and 2013. Plus, he said, the province loses millions of dollars when it’s forced to spill water at its hydro-electric stations or shut down nuclear plants if too much power is being generated.
All of those costs, he said, have and will continue to contribute to rising electricity bills for Ontario households and businesses.
Many of the comments during the meeting painted the wind industry out to be villains, willing to say and do just about anything the see a project become reality.
But Francois Morin, a spokesman for Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. – the firm behind the Merrick wind farm proposal and the defunct Mattawa-area project – said Innergex is not related to the industry that he heard described during the meeting.
“I understand people have concerns,” said Morin, noting Innergex stands behind its 25-year track record and is determined to demonstrate that it’s not the sort of company that was talked about Tuesday.
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