The ‘treachery’ of Ontario’s wind power program
Independent newspaper publisher Rick Conroy of The Times reviews the decisions by the Environmental Review Tribunal to uphold the approval of the wind power project on little Amherst Island. The facts when laid out this way are shocking … and shameful.
The Times, August 12, 2016
From Amherst Island, you can see the Lennox gas-fired generating station sitting idle most days. The plant sits just across the narrow channel. It burns both oil and gas to produce steam that, in turn, drives generators to create electricity. The plant has the capacity to generate 2,100 MW of electricity—enough to power more than a million homes. But that electricity is rarely ever used. Over the last decade, the Lennox station has operated at less than three per cent of its capacity. That means it is idle much more often than it runs. Yet it earns more than $7 million each month—whether it runs or doesn’t. Such is Ontario’s hyperpoliticized energy regime.
Last Thursday was a warm day across Ontario— one of the warmest in a hot summer. With air conditioners humming, electricity demand across the province peaked at 22,312 MW. Meanwhile, Lennox sat idle all day. As it does most days.
So it seems odd that yet another gas-fired generating plant is emerging from the ground next to the mostly-idle Lennox station. It will add another 900 MW of generating capacity to a grid that clearly doesn’t need any more.
From Amherst Island, it must seem cruel. Within a couple of kilometres, there is enough unused power generating capacity to light millions of homes, yet island residents are being forced to give up their pastoral landscape— for the sake of an intermittent electricity source that nobody needs.
Last week, an Environmental Review Tribunal rejected an appeal by Amherst Island residents seeking to stop Windlectric, a wind energy developer, from covering their island home from end to end with industrial wind turbines, each one soaring 55 storeys into the sky.
Amherst Island is tiny. Just 20 kilometres long and 7 kilometres wide, there is no place, no horizon, no home that can avoid being transformed by this out-ofscale industrialization.
The treachery gets worse. Amherst Island is administered by a council that presides over the larger Loyalist Township from the mainland. Last year, council made a deal with the wind developer, agreeing to recieve a $500,000 payment each year the wind turbines spin. It is a lot of money for a municipality that operates on a $12-million budget annually.
But perhaps the most disappointing bit of this story is the damage that has been done to friendships and families on Amherst Island. Just 450 people live here. It swells to about 600 in the summer. It was a close community in the way island life tends to be.
Industrial wind energy has, however, ripped this community in two. Property owners hoping to share in the windfall from the development are on one side and those who must endure the blight on the landscape for a generation or more on the other.
Lifelong friends no longer speak to each other. At St. Paul’s Presbyterian service on Sunday mornings, the wind energy benefactors sit on one side of the church, the opponents on the other. A hard, angry line silently divides this community.
The Environmental Review Tribunal concluded not enough evidence was presented in the hearings to say the project will cause serious and irreversible harm to endangered species including the bobolink, Blanding’s turtle and little brown bat.
The decision underlines the terrible and oppressive cruelty of the Green Energy Act—that the only appeal allowed for opponents is whether the project will cause serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment. It is a profoundly unjust restriction on the right of people to challenge the policies and decisions of their government as they directly impact their lives.
The folks on Amherst Island weren’t permitted, for example, to argue that the power is unneeded— that this project is a grotesquely wasteful use of provincial tax dollars. Their neighbourhood already boasts enough electricity capacity to power a small country, yet it sits idle—at a cost of millions of dollars each month. It might have been a useful addition to the debate—but this evidence wasn’t permitted.
Nor were island residents allowed to appeal the fundamental alteration of their landscape. Nor the loss of property value. They can’t undo the broken friendships and the hollow feeling that hangs over the church suppers or the lonely trips across the channel.
Wide swathes of reason and logic have been excluded in the consideration of renewable energy projects in Ontario.
To the extent that urban folks are even aware of what green energy policies are doing to places like Amherst Island, they console themselves by believing it is the cost of a clean energy future—that diminishing the lives of some rural communities is an acceptable trade-off for the warm feeling of doing better by the planet.
Yet these folks need to explain to Amherst Island residents how decimating their landscape, risking the survival of endangered species and filling the pockets of a developer with taxpayer dollars for an expensive power supply that nobody needs makes Ontario greener.
Visit Amherst Island. Soon.
Remember it as it is today. Mourn for its tomorrow.
Read the full opinion here.