Comment - Not easy being green

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

Sept. 22, 2010

With an election on the way and communities divided on certain green energy proposals, it's interesting to listen to Haldimand Councillors wrestle with the wind. Indeed, it's not easy being green, but it's a lot less difficult than they make it out to be.

Before defeating a motion passed by Norfolk Council calling for a moratorium on wind turbines to address health concerns and fulfill a "fiduciary duty" to residents, Coun. Lorne Boyko emphasized that municipalities don't have the necessary expertise when it comes to the health concerns associated with turbines and that they also have no control over provincial policies.

He's right, except that the motion wasn't asking Haldimand to establish a committee of wind experts or undertake some sort of scientific inquiry. Also, this local government has attempted to influence decision makers at upper levels many times in the past.

In a matter of minutes, after defeating the call for a moratorium, council unanimously passed another motion, calling on the province to confirm its intentions regarding the retrofitting and refuelling of OPG Nanticoke and initiate environmental reviews.

That was an easy call. Most, if not all voters are onside with that decision.

Several councillors spoke of the need to maintain the OPG facility given Nanticoke's transmission corridor and the need to have a reliable power base that only such a generating plant can provide, by being able to ramp up and down as the demand for electricity dictates. But again, much like the high cost of electricity bills that are being driven skyward by green energy projects, such a notion has everything to do with the provincial policy and virtually nothing to do with a municipal mandate.

It's not that council was necessarily wrong in standing up for OPG workers, the property tax base and local economy, but some people look for consistency in decision making. That is to say, you can't logically argue a certain rationale to justify inaction on one front, while ignoring it to take action on another.

The local tax base will also likely suffer if wind turbines are erected. They will arguably impact the landscape and deter future tourism and economic development opportunities. And many local residents are concerned about associated health issues.

Some councillors have often stepped outside their own mandate, arguably to the detriment of local taxpayers, for that very reason. Some have supported the funding of local hospitals, social service agencies and flood relief efforts, using the health of local citizenry as an excuse to spend money they aren't required to.

Much like Coun. Craig Grice, many people would agree with the thinking that you can't say yes to green energy on one hand, and no to wind turbines on the other. But someone needs to remind councillors that asking for a moratorium isn't saying no to anything. If enacted, it would be seen as buying time to iron out the obvious kinks.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a moratorium is "a waiting period set by an authority" or a "suspension of activity." Asking for one, realizing that local councils have no veto power, certainly wouldn't hurt anyone directly, except politicians at the ballot box, perhaps, who may anger some people who have private interests in wind energy.

But the notion that developers will b chased away by such a request is ridiculous. Given Haldiman'd track record with development the past few years, I'd be willing to take the chance to try and make sure these turbines are completed using a little bit of tact. Developers don't care what local councillors say anyway, and you can rest assured that the province isn't going to change a thing.

In all likelihood, municipalities will regain some of their say in zoning and planning decisions if a Progressive Conservative government is elected next fall. The whole future direction of energy generation in Ontario could change, or at the very least undergo some major alterations. Just how many turbines will be standing in Haldimand by that time is questionable.

For now, Haldimand council seems content sticking with the status quo. As one spectator pointed out at this week's council meeting, Haldimand is back to where it was when Norfolk council forwarded the moratorium motion to Mayor Marie Trainer last June. To think that some municipalities are actually taking legal action combat the Green Energy Act and its oversight, the dithering locally is appalling, if not just for the simple fact it's a waste of time. Pure posturing.

Interesting to note is that the two councillors who have steadfastly opposed a call for a moratorium on wind turbines serve predominantly urban ridings encompassing Dunnville and Caledonia where hundreds of wind turbines are unlikely to be situated. The mayor, who represents everyone in Haldimand hasn't been at the last two council meetings. Intentional, perhaps. Convenient, most certainly.

With one round of council meetings still to go before the election on Oct. 25, it will be interesting to see if this council takes any sort of a stand or a different approach to combating wind turbines and mitigating the concerns of voters. Of course, it will probably choose to let the next council take its own direction. Doing something right before an election is a lot riskier than doing nothing, no matter how lame it looks.