Ontario’s Wind Moratorium: Public Discontent Sends a Global Message to Government-Dependent Energy (and energy sprawl)
“Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch, nay, you may kick it all about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Professor at the Breakfast Table
Something big just happened in Ontario–something the Wind Lobby fears. Recently, Minister of the Environment John Wilkinson held fast to what had been a “for now” moratorium policy where tough talk about environment-before-wind was followed by turbine contracts and business-as-usual wind development.
It is about time for a change. Rural Ontarians are mad about wind development, as are Lakeside communities, fishermen, and boaters.
Indeed, Ontario is about as fed up as a province can be with a laundry list of discontent ranging from 1) increased hydro bills and announced electricity rate hikes of 40% in the next years; 2) a tax-grab ‘Harmonized Sales Tax’ and 3) a Green Energy Act, which took away Municipal rights to project planning and superseded other environmental legislation.
The new offshore turbine moratorium will more than likely be the legacy for the New Government, soon to be elected in October 2011. Candidates are choosing their position on the wind issue, and it will be a battle royal for the economic and spiritual health of the province. Liberals, who have succumbed to wind interests in the past, are declining in popularity and have a slim chance of taking the seat of power this time around.
So, low and behold, Big Wind is on the run.
Fresh-Water Wind Turbines: ‘Green’ Gets Gross
Offshore turbines in fresh water lakes are not really being done anywhere, save recently a small pilot project in Sweden. The potential for damage is obvious: tamper with drinking water quality and the obvious redistribution of toxins that lay slightly submerged from fifty years of settling. Migratory routes, the economic health of fishing, sailing, and tourism would all be compromised beyond repair.
And the next contentious issue for turbines in Ontario is for rural folk, landscapes, wildlife and birds, the health of farm animals and land quality. With ambitious plans for another 4,000+ behemoth turbines, where else would they go?
Wetlands, shorelines, parks, known bird areas, forests even, farmers’ fields; nothing is sacred (see here). All of this ambition is lined with apparently shady business deals, a 7 billion dollar Samsung deal, and creamy subsidies (13 cents per kWh on land, 18 cents per kWh offshore, while current prices are 6.5 cents per kWh).
And watch businesses bail leave when power rates go up fourfold.
Wind Damage in the Province
Perhaps the most salient feature of the new announcement re offshore turbines in Ontario is that the province has been for several years a breeding ground for capable and strong minded activists who have just had enough.
Consider the evidence: broken communities, ruined landscapes, “shockingly high” bird mortality rates, seven families who have abandoned their vibrating homes, and more than one hundred individuals who report ill health, often serious. Out of this has come a vigorous and tenacious new generation of malcontents, who are dedicating thousands of hours to public education, public rallies, writing, and speaking. I’m just one of them, and I am a bona fide environmentalist.
Organizations like Toronto Wind Action (TWA) and Great Lakes Wind Truth have morphed out of this discontent and have lobbied at various levels for logic and environmental values that are not mired in “relationships” with the “administration,” and ornithological payoffs or incentives.
The recent moratorium achieved by TWA and a local Councillor, Paul Ainslie, at the TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) for offshore turbines, was certainly another nail in this coffin.
TRCA, composed of a swath of leaders and politicians, representing the largest Conservation Authority in Ontario, turned the tide against the legal and political armour protecting the-then high-octane Ontario turbine development. TRCA’s leaders called for new investigation of erosion, migration, wildlife impacts, and water quality. This was a day of total elation, as activists realized the boat had turned.
Then came the Toronto Municipal elections. Only one Mayoral candidate met the test as the people’s choice, Mayor Rob Ford. This man of the people, a kind of “you are not going to have them if you don’t want them” person, is a man of his word. It was high drama: Smitherman vs. Ford. (Smitherman was the Minister of Energy and Deputy Premier who recently engineered the 7 billion dollar Secret Samsung deal in Korea.) With Mr Ford, the boat had turned even more sharply.
Enter into this volatile mixture of public discontent, two current legal challenges. One of those, the Ian Hanna case, reflects the courage of a single farmer from Big Island (not very big, as he always points out), to have the courts hear his complaints that the Green Energy Act has prematurely paved the way for wind development without regard for science and proper setbacks. Ontario’s setback is only 550 metres, while Europe and other jurisdictions often call for setbacks of 1-2 miles.
If this single legal challenge is successful in Ontario (expert witnesses have been accepted and the case heard by a tribunal of Judges), turbine construction and placement in Ontario will be dead for an “undetermined” amount of time.
And this is only reminiscent of world wide turbine activity and shutdowns. Holland, land of windmills, is taking a sharp turn away from turbines. One of the biggest issues that is sure to emerge in the next six months is the massive bird kills internationally including endangered and threatened species such as eagles.
A New Era?
Ontario’s announcement should serve as a highlight to those struggling everywhere against Big Business-Big Government Wind. It shows that it is not futile to educate, to rally. There is power in numbers, writing, and talking.
Research is blossoming at breakneck speed educating us that industrial turbines don’t do as promised. They create environmental havoc on every part of the globe, disrupt communities, weaken economies. And think ahead to probably 10 to 15 years (not the 25 years the industry claims) when the huge machines are disconnected from the grid and left to rot in the sun, still killing birds.
Such monuments to false environmentalism are and will be sorry remembrances of our broken promises to renew and protect Nature.
If Ontario is ground zero, the end is nigh for the Big Wind.
Sherri Lange has been an educator in numerous fields for the past 30 years. For the last 18 years, she has taught English Literature at Central Technical High School in in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Ms. Lange has organized environmental forums for the community and staff and students on a wide range of current issues: wind power, climate change, garbage, pollution, factory farming, and the power of the individual to impact social change, just to name a few.
She is a founding member of Save the Toronto Bluffs and Toronto Wind Action, and co-founder of Great Lakes Wind Truth (a Canada/US association), all three groups challenging industrial wind power in our Great Lakes.
Ms. Lange is also a writer and fine arts photographer.