Ontario wind power contract process trounces democracy
No one is forced to have wind turbines on their land; communities shouldn’t be, either.
Ontario Farmer, May 17, 2016
By Jane Wilson and Warren Howard
Recently, a Mitchell, Ont. resident wrote to Ontario Farmer saying that the wind turbine siting process seems fair to him: “no one [has been] forced to have a wind turbine.”
We beg to differ: with almost 2,600 industrial-scale wind turbines now operating or under construction, the fact is thousands of Ontario residents have been forced to live with wind turbines, without any effective say in the matter.
The decision to host wind turbines should not rest with the few individuals who lease land for the project, but also with the entire community; many people can be affected by this decision.
The Green Energy Act of 2009 removed local land-use planning for wind power projects, at the same time as it overrode 21 pieces of democratically passed pieces of legislation, including the Planning Act, the Heritage Act, the Environmental Bill of Rights — even the Places to Grow Old Act.
Can’t say NO
The result is a process in which citizens and their elected governments now have no “say” whatsoever. Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli said this past March that it would be “virtually impossible” for a power developer to get a contract in a community that did not support turbines, but that’s exactly what happened.
Even a community that held a formal referendum, in which 84 per cent of residents said “no” to wind power, is now being forced to have turbines.
Compare this to the procedures for other forms of development: they are relatively open, in which the community is presented with detailed information and opportunities to comment on the type and scope of development proposed.
The opposite is true for industrial-scale wind power projects. Municipalities are asked for support with very little information on environmental, economic, or social impacts. In some cases, where the developer has determined formal municipal support is unlikely, the company simply files a document saying it “tried” to get municipal support but failed — the truth is, municipalities will meet with anyone. Failure to meet on such an important project should be a red flag to contracting authorities about the nature of the development and the degree of opposition to it.
The public information meetings held by developers often occur after municipal support is requested. A paper produced by a team of academics published this year termed these meetings “dog-and-pony shows” which is an indication of how much real information is offered.
Municipal support must be mandatory
Wind Concerns Ontario submitted a series of recommendations to the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) on the contracting process, which included: a requirement that all documents related to the project should be released prior to any public meeting or municipal consultation; the precise location of turbines must be revealed as well as a broader set of site considerations; there must be a process through which municipal government, community groups and individuals can comment on these documents and their accuracy; and last, municipal support must be a mandatory requirement of any contract bid.
It may be true as the letter writer suggests: no one is forced to have a turbine on their own property, but communities and neighbours should not be forced to have them either.
Before people sign for lease turbines, they need to talk to their neighbours (because the whole community will be affected by the decision to lease) and learn from the experiences in other communities where turbines are operating. They may discover that the small lease payments offered are not worth the impact on the community, and on their friends and neighbours.
The fact is, wind turbines result in high impact on communities for very little benefit. The Ontario government needs to respect the right of Ontario citizens to make decisions on wind power developments for themselves.
Jane Wilson is president of Wind Concerns Ontario. Warren Howard is a former municipal councillor for North Perth.