McGuinty vows to stop wind-farm NIMBYs
QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU: Rob Ferguson & Leslie Ferenc - February 11, 2009
LONDON, Ont. – Taking a swipe at those who oppose wind turbines off the Scarborough Bluffs, Premier Dalton McGuinty is signalling he won't hesitate to foist "green" energy projects on communities across Ontario.
Only safety and environmental concerns will be legitimate objections to biofuel plants, solar panel fields and wind turbines under a green energy act to be proposed this month, the premier said yesterday in a speech on the economy.
"We're going to say to Ontarians that it's okay to object on the basis of safety issues and environmental standards; if you have real concerns there, put those forward and we must find a way to address those," McGuinty told reporters.
"But don't say, 'I don't want it around here.' ... NIMBYism will no longer prevail," he added, using the acronym for "not in my backyard."
He's counting on the act, of which few details have been released, to help create 50,000 jobs over the next three years and boost the amount of renewable energy feeding into the electricity grid to fight climate change.
McGuinty wouldn't say exactly how concerns will be overridden, but his office noted the bill will "address local bylaws and regulations that are used to delay or stop proposed renewable energy projects."
He stressed that, when it comes to safety and environmental standards for green projects, "we're not talking about compromising those one iota."
In London, Ont., officials at a sports facility are objecting to the construction of a biofuel generating station nearby. McGuinty said he understands why some people will object to new green energy projects, but there is a larger issue at stake.
"We've heard about a number of folks who have raised concerns about wind turbines or solar panels and biofuel plants. I think it's only natural that when people are facing the unfamiliar that these kinds of concerns come to the foreground."
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario declined comment, saying it wants to see details first, but some Scarborough residents expressed fears that McGuinty will ram the legislation through without proper studies of the impact the wind turbines would have on human health and the environment.
"We're not going away – residents won't lay down," said local activist John Laforet, adding opponents are already fired up "because of the way we've been treated by the government. I expect residents will only get noisier."
Toronto Hydro is proposing to put up to 60 wind turbines in shallow water on a natural reef two to four kilometres offshore, from Leslie St. to Ajax, to create up to 200 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt is enough to power 300 homes.
Some critics say the area is not windy enough to warrant the project.
"If it's such a great idea, why not do an environmental assessment and prove there are no health risks?" said an angry Laforet. "Why do we need to be bludgeoned by legislation if the facts are on their (the government's) side?"
Laforet says he is concerned about "wind turbine syndrome," the term some use to describe the symptoms of people who say they have been sickened by the noise.
"Wind energy groups say it doesn't exist because there are no reports in scientific journals," he said. "It's why the health effects must be researched."
Like many of her neighbours on the Scarborough Bluffs, Cheryl Robertson said she supports green energy "in the right place," but added she's worried about the lack of research on the effects of the turbines on humans. Her son Ian, 15, suffers from migraines.
"Toronto is so eager to create green power, but at residents' expense. There's no question, however, that the windmills will affect the migration of big birds," she added.
The Toronto Environmental Alliance applauds the legislation.
"The idea of a green energy act that speeds up the development of renewable energy is absolutely necessary," said Franz Hartmann, noting it will help reduce smog.
But he's waiting to see the legislation when it is introduced after the Legislature begins its winter sitting next week.
McGuinty said the legislation will also give green power generating companies the "tools" they need to navigate the approvals process for their projects as Ontario copes with the recession and its plan to shut coal-fired power generating plants by 2014 – seven years later than he first promised in the 2003 election campaign.
"We need those jobs, we need clean electricity and we need to assume our responsibility in the face of climate change," McGuinty said.