Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to abandon new, large-scale wind turbine projects ends, for now, the Liberals’ disgraceful treatment of rural Ontarians on this issue.
One marked by blatant double standards in how the government dealt with people living in rural communities compared to cities.
In 2009, under Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, the Liberals took away, through their Green Energy Act, the planning rights of municipal governments related to the location of industrial wind turbines in their communities.
This was a direct attack on the rights of citizens in rural Ontario, since industrial wind farms don’t operate in big cities for obvious reasons.
Imagine the reaction in Toronto if the Liberals had wiped out local planning rights on issues such as a developer wanting to build a 50-storey apartment building in a residential neighbourhood.
And yet rural Ontarians lost their say in the location of industrial wind turbines as high as 50 storeys.
By contrast, in 2010, when Toronto Hydro proposed a 60-turbine wind farm in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs near four Liberal-held urban ridings, prompting widespread protests, the government effectively killed the project by proposing a 5-km minimum setback for offshore wind farms.
(In 2011, it imposed a moratorium on all offshore wind projects.)
This 5-km minimum offshore setback compared to the Liberals’ 550-metre minimum setback for onshore wind turbines, which thousands of rural Ontarians argued, to no avail, was inadequate to protect them from the adverse health effects of wind turbine noise, low-frequency vibrations and shadow flicker.
In announcing the 5-km offshore setback, then energy minister Brad Duguid told the Toronto Star that, among other issues: “I think it sets to rest the concerns of some moderate people, who were concerned if they go to the beach, they could be looking up at a huge wind turbine.”
In other words, Duguid was acknowledging local concerns about the aesthetics of wind turbines, in terms of size.
That contradicted statements by McGuinty and then energy minister George Smitherman in 2009 – ironically in relation to the Scarborough Bluffs project – that the only legitimate opposition to wind farms was for environmental and safety reasons and that people who objected to anything else were “NIMBYS”.
In fact, rural Ontarians were complaining to the government about environmental concerns that wind turbines are notorious killers of birds and bats and safety concerns about the possible adverse effects on human health, when turbines are placed too close to residential dwellings.
Those complaints largely fell on deaf ears.
But when protesting residents in the cities of Oakville and Mississauga expressed environmental and safety concerns about another form of electricity generation – gas plants – McGuinty cancelled the projects prior to the 2011 election.
That cost the public $1.1 billion in what the opposition parties dubbed the Liberal “seat saver” program to save local Liberal MPPs from losing their seats.
Small wonder so many rural Ontarians are furious at the Liberals, even beyond what the government’s wind energy fiasco did to their electricity bills.
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