Residents pleased Liberals delaying offshore wind power

While much of the world was watching the revolutionary events occurring in Egypt, the provincial Liberal government announced on Feb. 11 it was dropping its proposed offshore wind projects until further scientific research is conducted.

Local opponents of the wind energy projects proposed for land in the Belwood area could not be more pleased at the reversal. 

“No renewable energy approvals for offshore have been issued, and no offshore projects will proceed at this time,” the province stated in a press release.   “Applications for offshore wind projects in the Feed-In-Tariff program will no longer be accepted and current applications will be suspended.”

The government stated, “Offshore wind in freshwater lakes is early in development and there are no projects operating in North America.  The recently installed Lake Vanern pilot project in Sweden is one of the only operational freshwater offshore projects in the world and a pilot project has been proposed in Ohio.  Ontario will monitor these projects and the resulting scientific knowledge,” the province promised.

But while land turbine opponents were pleased, Minister of Environment and Perth Wellington MPP John Wilkinson said in an interview on Tuesday morning that there is a big difference between offshore and land turbine projects.

His ministry has the responsibility for approving all hydro projects because the MOE is responsible for human health and the natural environment.

He explained that with only one offshore project of ten turbines being located in fresh water anywhere in the world, there are simply too many questions to be answered to risk the fresh water in the Great Lakes with untested technology.

“Fresh water is a novel concept,” he said. “This is new.”

Wilkinson said his ministry posted draft regulations for off-shore turbines on its website, and received over 1,400 questions. When the ministry was unable to answer them, it decided to delay any approvals until it can do that. He noted the Clean Water Act demands that everyone keep drinking water safe at the source.

“The answers will be informed by science,” he said, adding that, with on-shore turbines, “There is 40 years of science data from around the world.”

Wilkinson added the provincial government has already struck the strictest regulations in North America for wind turbines on land, with the largest setbacks at 550 metres, and a maximum of 40 decibels for around inhabited areas. He said the World Health Organization set that upper limit.

“For on-shore wind turbines, we have a process mandating the public and municipalities’ participation,” he said.

He concluded, “People need to count on the government to protect human health and the environment.”

Opponents pleased

But while Wilkinson said there will be no effect on wind turbine projects on land, opponents of those projects are taking heart from the off-shore turbine decision.

Belwood area resident James Virgin was wondering why it took the government so long to reach its conclusion.

“They recognize there’s an issue with wind energy,” he said. “We’re hoping the same consideration will be put forth for land based wind turbines.”

Virgin was also bemused at the way the announcement was done – during a crisis half a world away where a dictatorship was being overthrown in Egypt.

“I think it’s amazing to see that the democratic process works – sometimes,” Virgin said of the provincial announcement. “It’s taken two years to bring them [the provincial government] to their senses.”

The Toronto daily Newspapers editorials have speculated the decision had nothing to do with a government coming to its senses – and everything to do with a provincial election coming in October.”

Dave Hurlburt, vice president of Oppose Belwood Wind Farm, said on Monday, “I’m thrilled. This is another good move for our position.”

He, too, wondered about the politics involved.

“It does have the appearance of being politically motivated – but the Liberals are realizing they haven’t done their homework on wind turbines,” he said, adding he is hoping for much larger setbacks on land for wind turbines.

Oppose Belwood Wind Farm president Janet Vallery said of the move, “It is surprising, because they have taken such a strong stance on wind turbines. It makes me wonder what is pressuring them. Are they afraid of losing votes? It’s obvious they are feeling the pressure of going too fast.”

Vallery said she was particularly pleased with the decision to stop the offshore projects because of the implications for fresh water.

She added, “The hope lies in the science and they’ve acknowledged that they hadn’t done the science. It’s the same as [for land turbines]. They haven’t done the health study yet. Those studies are starting to happen and are showing causal relationships.”

Virgin said some people who consider themselves environmentalists will support wind turbines because of the government claim that it is “green” energy.

Vallery said. “We’re all trying to be ‘green … but when we look at [industrial wind turbines] they’re not green’.”

She said the turbines need fossil fuels for back-up and they also kill large numbers of wildlife.

She said “going green” is “kind of a fashion the Liberals have adopted. The media are on to them – and the expense.”

She added “Rural Ontario is in an uproar. I hope they’re starting to listen. I hope this is the first step in their listening. We’ve seen this government do flip flops on so many issues … here is the first one on wind turbines.”

Virgin said, “This is a move in the right direction. We need to have them take a good hard look at the land” turbines,”

The government promised in its statement it will “work with our U.S. neighbours on research to ensure any future proposed projects protect the environment on both sides of the Great Lakes.”

It also reiterated, “Ontario remains committed to renewable energy.  Renewable energy is a key part of our Open Ontario Plan to create clean energy jobs while improving air quality by closing coal-fired generation.”