The Ontario Liberals sent a message to the future this week: it warned Conservative Premier Tim Hudak that if he wants to keep his absurd, long-standing promise to put a moratorium on all wind turbine farms in Ontario, that he would have to do it at the expense of taxpayer dollars and well-paying jobs in the alternative energy sector.
This week, Ontario’s Energy Minister Brad Duguid made the announcement that the wind turbine deal Ontario has with Korean multi-national Samsung has been renegotiated to bump up manufacturing job creation, while cutting the premium that Ontario would have paid on the electricity generated by the Samsung wind farms. What could have amounted to $585M, according to the Toronto Sun, will now likely cost Ontarians $110M.
And as reported by the Government of Ontario, “improvements to the Renewable Energy Approvals (REA) process that will provide greater certainty for developers, while continuing Ontario’s rigorous protection of the environment and human health.” This on top of the 20,000 jobs they say have already been created by the wind energy sector.
Not everyone is as sold on wind energy as the provincial Liberals, though. Recently, the turbine issue has become identified as an urban vs. rural conflict. Wind Concerns Ontario (founded in Innisfil, Ontario in 2008) is a grassroots umbrella coalition that represents 57 independent residents associations against wind turbines in 33 counties/districts. “Wind Concerns Ontario provides a strong, unified voice of opposition to the unchecked rush of locating thousands of massive industrial wind turbines across the province,” they argue, “which are too close to human habitation and are without the benefit of full environmental assessment.”
Their website hosts a litany of objections to wind energy: health, safety, viability, noise, wildlife. And far be it from me to belittle their concerns: this has become an urban vs. rural issue primarily because Ontario’s urban residents enjoy the benefits of green energy without the
hassles and mess that can come with wind farms. You might not hear this often enough, rural Ontario, but from an urban resident – and I mean this with all due sincerity – thank you for hosting wind turbines. Your sacrifice is appreciated. And to be fair, your concerns against the manner in which the farms have been established, without proper due diligence and municipal support you claim, is troubling.
But here is where Wind Concerns Ontario loses me, and where I see a great opportunity for the Liberals to ‘John Tory’ Tim Hudak. (To ‘John Tory’ someone is to capitalize on a blustery promise made by someone in the heat of the moment that pigeon-holes them into supporting an unenviable position. But, amusingly enough, it’s all their own doing.)
Brian Macleod, writing in the Sudbury Star, also picked up on the opportunity that Hudak has presented. If you combine Ontarians’ support for green energy with their other top concern – jobs – then “you’ve got the makings of an uncomfortable scenario for Hudak,” Macleod argues, “since the Liberals claim their wind energy policies will create 50,000 jobs by the end of 2012.”
“Wind energy companies are speaking out,” he continues, “criticizing Hudak for his pledge to scrap the feed-in-tariff program, saying it will push investment elsewhere. The province is, in effect, supporting a burgeoning industry in which Ontario is a nationwide leader. This puts Hudak squarely at odds with companies that are bringing manufacturing investment to a province that has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the last decade.
The Toronto Sun is right when their headlines snarls the ‘Grits dare Hudak to back out of new Samsung deal,’ because they are! Just like they dared John Tory to try and maintain his enthusiastic support for faith-based school funding, an issue so unimportant to most that a government could never be formed on the issue. But the difference here is, jobs and energy are things that a majority of people care about: these are issues large enough to sway voters, and the Liberals effort this week to hedge their bets was not only a good political move, but shows their committment to green energy for Ontario.
Even if it hurts the members of Wind Concerns Ontario. Because while it is regrettable that they object to wind turbines in their communities, there is an urgent need for alternative energy in this province, and NIMBY issues are difficult to navigate. And as I have written about elsewhere, sacrifice will be the name of the game moving forward with regards to energy in Ontario.
Tellingly, a July 2010 poll found 89% of Ontarians in favour of developing wind power, and only 3 out of 10 who didn’t want such a wind farm in their neighbourhood, according to Macleod. And scientific studies that ‘confirm’ the non-health hazards of wind turbines are as plentiful as those that ‘confirm’ their harmful effects. Effectively, it’s a draw.
But if Hudak feels confident in the support of those 3 out of 10 and the remaining 11% who do not support wind turbines, then good luck to him. He’s going to need it.
– – –
In appreciation of the wishes of Wind Concerns Ontario, I have removed an image from the post which was used on their website. As mentioned in the comments section, my intention was never to insult their thoughts on the matter, however much I may disagree. I have modified to post subsequently of my own volition to show my willingness to better understand their concerns and appear less confrontational.
– awreeves, 08/05/2011, 13:55