Ahoy to green energy

Council seeks input, not moratorium

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

Sept. 22, 2010

Politicians representing Haldimand and Norfolk counties haven't snubbed the Green Energy Hub, but they want more input on renewable forms of electricity generation so it doesn't become a flub.

The pomp and circumstance that came with the formal announcement of a regional marketing scheme to capitalize on green energy investment didn't resolve any of their concerns.

Ontario's Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Brad Duguid joined local elected representatives including other members of parliament, mayors, councillors and a chief aboard a Grand River boat cruise through Caledonia, Six Nations and Brant last Friday.

Led by the Brant Chamber of Commerce, Ontario's Green Energy Hub "will be a regionally shared, specifically targeted marketing and economic development strategy that will act as the development organization attracting foreign direct investment to the region," according to a press release.

Even though the kick-off event was met with great optimism during the planned portion of the agenda featuring keynote speakers, headwind was blowing afterward.

"The wind turbines and the solar panels are eating up agricultural land to 'feed the cities' in a different way," said Norfolk Mayor Dennis Travale.

"Why should we be growing energy in that fashion to feed the cities? Why aren't the solar panels on the buildings in the cities? At the same time, we can grow biomass. We do have the land."

Travale and Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer hope that Nanticoke's coal-fired power station can be converted to generate electricity after 2014 - when the McGuinty government plans to shut it down for good.

Aboard the Grand River Queen, Trainer emphasized the need to maintain the plant, 600 jobs, $4 million in economic spinoffs.

Apart from the concerns of local residents regarding the placement of wind turbines and the possible side effects, Trainer said that municipalities should be receiving more property tax for the structures than they currently are.

"The province is only willing to give Haldimand $2,000 per wind turbine, however municipalities should be allowed to tax them between $6,00 - $8,000," she said. "That's how MPAC (the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) would assess them. We know that's what they should be assessed at and the province is saying you can only assess them lower. So we're losing in so many ways."

Approximately 70 municipalities have called for a moratorium on wind turbines and some are taking legal action.

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett said that planning, management and coordination is needed when it comes to green energy initiatives and that Norfolk has already learned about the pitfalls.

"Right now the towers are going up willy-nilly," he said. "There's no municipal say, there's no zoning decision-making structure at all. I find that ludicrous. I think of Haldimand County with solar and I think of how we have two big arenas going up. I don't know whether anybody thought that through to orient them towards the sun to put solar on one side... This is why we have government."

However, Barrett believes that coordination between Green Energy Hub partners can be positive.

"In many ways, it doesn't matter what it is, we can do it down here (in Haldimand and Norfolk)," he said.

But, "Hang on to your wallet and look at your electricity bill... If we're going to close down a plant like that at Nanticoke and think that we're going to continue to compete with China that builds a plant like that every month, I thing that they're living in a fairyland...

"I disagree with the decision makers in this Province of Ontario who think that we can run this province without heavy industry and manufacturers who are very dependent on reasonably priced electricity."

Duguid wouldn't make many promises, except that "We can no longer pollute our air and harm our health...

"When communities look at wind turbines, they've got to see that as a symbol of us as a generation, stepping up, taking responsibility to say 'This is our opportunity to do something for our kids, that's going to create a cleaner and brighter future for them,'" he said.

"What we need to do in this province is we need to transform our energy system, and to do that we need to look at things like wind, things like solar, water projects, biogas and biomass as building a brighter future for our kids."

As for Nanticoke's OPG facility: "We're not at a due diligence point where we could make a commitment in terms of specifics, but I do see a future for Nanticoke when it comes to energy generation, when it comes to being part of this green energy hub," Duguid told The Regional News. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us to determine exactly what that future should be, but certainly I do see a future for Nanticoke at some point in time."

President of the Brant-Brantford Chamber of Commerce, Barry English stated that the natural advantages of the region, combined with a coordinated marketing strategy and business plan, can succeed.

"Think Silicon Valley," he said during opening remarks.

"The potential for jobs, investment assessment, educational opportunities and the resulting prosperity is profound,"

Universities, colleges and many private investors are on board with the initiative, noted Brant Liberal MPP Dave Levac.

Levac has been an advocate of the energy hub since day one and congratulated partners for telling the business would that "we are open for business and that our region is a place to invest..."

Partners including Brantford Mayor Mike Hancock and Brant Mayor Ron Eddy - adorned in a green collared shirt - also lauded the efforts of community partners.

"What this day says is this is what the Green Energy Act is all about - communities seizing the opportunities that the McGuinty Government is bringing to this province, trying to take a share of the billions of dollars of investment pouring into Ontario, because we're making Ontario a global leader in building renewable energy and innovation and developing renewable energy projects," Duguid said. "We encourage other communities across the province to do the same, but it's certainly something that this community can be proud of that they're way out in front."

Six Nations Chief Bill Montour and his purported leadership was also front and centre. For Six Nations, the announcement was a momentous occasion.

Montour said his people on the Indian Reservation missed out on the industrial revolution and were chasing the caboose, but that now, "the train is in the station."

"It should make all of our communities stronger," said Trainer of the energy hub collective. "If we can go out as a force of five communities with the advertising we can do together, if any manufacturing company is looking to move into this area, we can promote everything we have going for us. If a manufacturing plant goes in in Brant County, we know that Haldimand people would be working there."

A video donated by TGD Marketing concluded last Friday's  cruise along the Grand The video will be used to promote the green energy hub across the glove, English noted.