Open dialogue needed on wind turbine issues

To the Expositor:

Roughly 80 percent of Ontarians support the development of wind power generating facilities. It is not clear how many of the 80 percent understand wind power, but they are generally supportive of the concept. Eighty percent of Ontarians also happen to live in urban areas where the impacts of industrial wind development are not relevant (other than rising electricity bills). Anyhow, if 80 percent of Ontarians support wind development it makes sense that our provincial government is promoting the industry.

It is a massive undertaking to try to convince the nearly 11 million Ontarians (6 million in Toronto alone) that there is no merit in adding wind power to our current electricity generating and distribution system, and that there are very real negative impacts to host communities. However, I hope that all Ontarians can be receptive to a more reasonable approach to deciding where industrial wind turbines (IWTs) should be sited (located). I think it is reasonable to suggest that since the majority of Ontarians are supportive of the industry, IWTs should be placed on Crown Lands so that the negative impacts of wind development would be more evenly distributed among all Ontarians. Lease payments would then be paid to the Crown and could even be used to discount our hydro bills. Another more acceptable location for wind projects is land that is zoned commercial or industrial, and that has the existing infrastructure (roads and transmission lines) to support such projects.

Currently industrial wind projects are being forced on rural communities, and when crafting the Green Energy and Economy Act, Ontario’s government did a very thorough job of ensuring that rural citizens would not be able to stop industrial wind projects. Every wind project application submitted under this legislation to date has been approved despite strong local opposition in all cases.

The province is currently taking steps toward giving municipalities more say in the planning and development of large wind projects. However, municipalities will not likely have the ability to altogether say no to such projects. While this is of no consolation to communities that have already had projects forced on them, it is a small improvement to the existing approval process. I do hope theses changes have been spurred on by the recognition of the sentiment in rural Ontario, however, I suspect it is merely the first of many steps the province will take to slow the growth of the wind industry now that the ineffectiveness and impracticality of such projects has been realized.

While the province is taking a small step in the right direction by allowing municipalities a stronger voice in planning wind projects in their communities, we will still face mayors, councils and municipal staff that will ignore the concerns of their constituents, play small town politics, and even make decisions for personal gain. It is therefore extremely important for those concerned about IWTs to demand that their municipal representatives maintain an open dialogue regarding the potential for wind projects in their communities.

Despite your opinion of Ontario’s approach to promoting renewables, and of IWTs in particular, I hope we can all agree that there should be mandatory public information sessions in communities where wind developers are interested in installing IWTs, before they are permitted to offer lease agreements to local landowners. This would allow people the opportunity to discuss the impact a proposed project will have on their community before landowners are bound to legal agreements with developers. It would allow neighbours to discuss the very direct impact the IWTs will have on each other before signing a lease. It is, in my opinion, completely unethical for wind developers to secretively seek out suitable landowners and get leases signed before informing the public of their plans.

While I would like to see this mandated at the provincial level, perhaps it is something that Ontario municipalities can address. Personally, I would like to see Island municipalities join the 33 Ontario municipalities to date that have officially declared themselves to be unwilling hosts for industrial wind projects. At the very least, I see no reason for our municipalities to be unsupportive of open dialogue in their community at the onset of the arrival of wind developers in a community, before lease agreements are signed by local landowners.

Nicolas Harfield