Amherst Island is an idyllic place: rolling meadows dotted with heritage buildings, narrow carriage roads lined by the largest concentration of historic dry stone walls in Canada. The population of 400 year-round residents expands to 1,000 in the summer, but the island located west of Kingston in Lake Ontario, because it is a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, has largely resisted the encroachment of developers.
It is an internationally designated Important Bird Area, lies directly on the migration path of dozens of bird varieties, is home to several endangered species, and is known as the owl capital of North America.
In short, Amherst Island is a special place.
But that could all change if an industrial wind energy project goes ahead. The Ontario government has approved the construction of 27 giant turbines, a transformer station and collector lines. These are no ordinary windmills: the industrial turbines are more than 500 feet tall. That’s the height of a 55-storey skyscraper.
Without question, this massive construction project will disrupt life on the island like never before. The historic stone fences will be damaged or destroyed. Wildlife habitat will be damaged or destroyed.
And when these massive turbines are in operation, many of the things that make Amherst Island such a special place will be destroyed.
This development, combined with other projects, either in operation to the east or awaiting construction to the west, will mean the migratory flight path along the eastern end of Lake Ontario will be blanketed with bird-killing wind turbines.
These are among the reasons that Nature Canada, Ontario Nature, the Kingston Field Naturalists and the American Bird Conservancy – along with such eminent Canadians as Margaret Atwood and Roberta Bondar – have all said the Amherst Island project is a terrible idea.
But the green energy movement – and I count Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government as among the biggest advocates for this immensely profitable business – tell us that destroying places like Amherst Island is a worthwhile trade-off for a green future free of fossil fuels.
I reject that argument, categorically.
First, there are other places to build such developments: places where the threat to the cultural and natural heritage is not so acute.
Second, we don’t need the electricity this project will generate.
Ontario is producing far more energy than it needs, even at peak times. It has some 35,000 megawatts of installed generating capacity, with 28,000 or more available at any given time, to meet peak demand of 21,000 megawatts.
With such a huge surplus, the market price of electricity has declined substantially. Yet most producers have contracts with Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator that guarantee prices much higher than market price. In the case of green energy, the prices are many times higher than the going rate.
The difference is picked up by Ontarians on their monthly hydro bills.
All that surplus electricity has to go somewhere and, in many cases, it goes to customers in places such as New York and Michigan – but at much cheaper prices than Ontarians have paid for the power.
The Consumer Policy Institute in a study last month found that Ontarians have subsidized power going to neighbouring states and provinces to the tune of $6.3 billion over the past decade. The subsidy was $1.4 billion last year and the institute estimates it will be $1.8 billion this year.
Our competitors get that power for only 12 per cent of the cost, with the other 88 per cent picked up by Ontarians. The problem is getting worse because Ontario continues to add to the surplus by approving projects to produce more power that it doesn’t need.
It is crazy, to put it mildly, and it’s getting crazier, thanks to an out-of-control system put in place by a government that has been richly rewarded by its friends in the green energy industry.
That brings us back to Amherst Island. Why ruin one of the province’s most precious places to produce energy we don’t need? Energy that will, in fact, benefit our economic rivals.
The Amherst Island project should be cancelled immediately, before construction begins. If cancellation fees must be paid, so be it. As former premier Dalton McGuinty famously said after his cancellation of two gas plants in southern Ontario: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
In this case, it’s the right thing to do for Amherst Island and it’s the right thing to do for the people of Ontario.
Bob Runciman is the Conservative senator for Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
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