Ontario’s energy minister is making no apologies for a locally unwanted wind farm being built in Southwestern Ontario with the backing of remote communities more than 1,000 kilometres away.
“We believe that providing opportunities for aboriginal communities to become involved in renewable energy projects is a key component of the renewable procurement process, regardless of whether the project takes place on their territory or not,” a statement by Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli’s office said.
Under a new competitive bidding process that was promoted as taking local sentiment into account, Chicago-based Invenergy won a contract to build the Strong Breeze wind farm in the Elgin County municipality of Dutton-Dunwich.
Eighty-four per cent of Dutton-Dunwich reidents who voted in a referendum last year opposed wind farm development.
But Invenergy partnered with six First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario – Fort Severn, Keewaywin, Deer Lake, North Spirit Lake, McDowell Lake and Poplar Hill – which boosted its bid in the intense competition for 16 renewable energy contracts. More than 100 bids were submitted.
“People are upset,” Jeff Yurek, Progressive Conservative MPP of Elgin-Middlesex-London said Wednesday after speaking to people in his riding.
“They assumed that it would be local groups that would be directly affected,” he said of the government’s policy of garnering First Nations support for the project.
Yurek said he believes the Liberal government is trying to divert attention from the fact it said municipalities would have a say on wind farms. “They ignored the wishes of the municipality.”
The new bidding system for the first time required companies to compete on price. Under the old system, companies were offered fixed rates for power.
But along with price, companies were awarded points if they could win the backing of landowners and the municipality and participation in the project by First Nations.
Local opponents of the wind farm said it was ludicrous for the remote communities to influence the decision to build in Elgin County.
Chiarelli said his government is proud to see that under the new competitive bidding process 80 per cent of the projects had equity participation from aboriginal communities. In five of the projects, aboriginal communities had more than 50 per cent equity, he said.
“By putting emphasis on price and community support, we believe the right balance has been struck in early community engagement and reduced prices for consumers,” the statement by his office said.
In the Elgin County wind farm, the six First Nations communities invested through NCC Development Corp., originally set up to help native communities reduce dependence on diesel fuel by installing solar energy.
In a statement, the Northern Chiefs Council representing the six First Nations expressed disappointment over the Elgin flap.
“Our involvement in renewable energy projects should not be judged on whether we live by Hudson Bay or Lake Erie,” it said, saying it should instead be judged on experience and capability.
The statement by the council’s chief executive director, Geordi Kakepetum, noted the First Nations are building and operating solar energy projects for themselves and others in Ontario.
Yurek will attend an Energy Ministry briefing Thursday.
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