A small act of resistance was offered by the North Grenville Municipal Council recently to the tidal wave that has been sweeping renewable energy projects before it, often in the face of well-founded doubts and local opposition. Given the provincial government’s rather questionable record when it comes to power plants and energy generation, the desire to appear environmentally-friendly when it comes to renewable energy projects may seem understandable. However, the irresponsible attitude to public opinion (and finances) shown by the government in the past seems to be unimpaired by their sketchy record.
In early March, the province announced that it would be setting up five new major wind power projects, two of which would be in Eastern Ontario. In addition to these two installations, there are almost a dozen new wind energy projects approved for this part of the province, amounting to more than 140 turbines (or giant windmills). There are about 100 turbines currently operating in Eastern Ontario, including ten in Brinston, east of North Grenville.
On the face of it, this is a positive move towards renewable energy, but it has also upset many of the communities across the province which had explicitly stated their opposition to such projects. North Stormont is getting between 30 and 50 new turbines, in spite of the fact that the municipality had said it doesn’t want them. Neither does the Nation Municipality, east of Ottawa, where there will be about a dozen new turbines set up. The irony is that Addington Highlands Township, the only place in Ontario to vote in favour of wind energy projects, did not get a single turbine under the recent government announcement.
In April, the Township of North Frontenac passed a Resolution on the subject. It pointed out that the Minister of Energy had actually claimed that it would be “almost impossible”for a municipality to have turbines imposed on them against their will, and yet that was precisely what was happening across the province. Even more important, “the province has not demonstrated that renewable energy projects are of sufficient importance in meeting Ontario’s electricity generation requirements and/or carbon emission reduction targets to warrant the province taking action to override municipal decisions”.
The Resolution called for a transparent and inclusive process when deciding the location of future projects, and that a Municipal Support Resolution become a mandatory requirement in the process. The Municipal Council of North Grenville were presented with the Resolution from North Frontenac at their Council meeting on April 25, and were given the opportunity to pass their own resolution in support of North Frontenac. A similar Resolution from Wainfleet Township had been voted down recently, but this time the elected representatives of North Grenville came through and voted in support of North Frontenac.
Or, at least, some of them did. Councillors Tobin and Onansanya did not support the Resolution, apparently agreeing that municipalities need not be consulted by the province before having wind turbines foisted on them. Mayor Gordon and Councillors Bertram and Arnaud made their position clear: the wishes of residents and taxpayers have to be taken into account when planning their future in this way. Where a community expressly states their opposition to such infrastructure development, the province, in this case the Independent Electricity System Operator, should not be allowed to ignore their wishes.
This is not a matter of whether you support renewable wind energy projects in principle. It is more a question of opposing the Big Brother mentality which has made renewable energy a politically correct shibboleth,where opposition marks one out as a Luddite and opponent of progress. Until citizens are reassured about matters of safety, sustainability and cost-benefit statistics, it is up to our elected representatives at the municipal level to try and hold back the arbitrary imposition by the province of such projects. The fact is that the generation, distribution and pricing of electricity in Ontario is a disgrace, a scandal and a severe burden on citizens, especially when compared with similar service in other jurisdictions.
The impression is given, repeatedly, that provincial departments and operators are neither competent, transparent or adequately knowledgeable in this field. They need to be questioned, regulated in their attempts to ride roughshod over communities. That is part of the job we elect municipal councils to do on our behalf. To fail to do so, as two councillors did recently, is to fail the people who elected them. Wind turbines may well be the future solution to our energy needs. Not many people think so, but technological developments may change that position. But they may also be yet another billion dollar boondoggle, in which case there is a real need to go slowly, and generate something equally important: informed consent by the people of Ontario.