Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wind debate ironies — MILLS


By Tom Mills, Sault Star
During a recent trip to Toronto I took a good look around for wind turbines.
The only one I found was that 11-year-old icon at Exhibition Place, recently refurbished symbol for the provincial government’s crusade to make wind turbines a substantial contributor to Ontario’s energy supply.
Although I knew better, someone might expect to spot at least a few more turbines spinning their blades in the Greater Toronto Area. Theoretically.
Because the GTA is by far the biggest consumer of power in the province.
Because transmission costs would be greatly reduced if power supply could be built close to power demand.
Because there seems to be no shortage of wind in the GTA (particularly at Queen’s Park, as the joke goes).
Because the GTA is home to a fair number of advocates of green energy and subsidized wind power generation.
Because other parts of Ontario, including and especially our own Algoma, already house their fair share of active or planned industrial wind farms. The GTA doesn’t usually like to be a follower.
And because politicians and the others in the GTA are in the habit of accusing rural Ontario residents of opposing wind turbine developments for purely Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) reasons.
So the “backyards” of the GTA should logically be dotted with gaily-whirring 100-metre-high towers.
Yes, Ontario’s wind farm debate, or shouting match, as Toronto writer David Israelson characterized it in the Globe and Mail this week, is blowing great gusts of ironies.
The big one, of course, is NIMBY GTA sneering at the rural Ontario’s NIMBY rejection of industrial wind farms. But there are others.
Consider that the $240-million Bow Lake Wind Project near Lake Superior Park is being developed in part by Batchewana First Nation. BFN has invested $8 million and has a 50% share.
First Nations normally, with some justification, pride themselves on being advocates for Mother Earth.
This winter’s Idle No More movement was in large part a reaction to legislation that organizers felt made it too easy for industries to exploit resources.
First Nations rallied to try to protect the environment.
Right now in southern Ontario’s Haldimand County, a Six Nations resident is waging a personal battle against Industrial Wind Turbines projects.
But in Algoma the tables are turned.
It’s a First Nation planning to plunk 36 industrial wind generators on the scenic shores of Lake Superior and a largely non-native citizens group leading the opposition to preserve that pristine portion of Mother Earth.
Of course, wind farms can have a positive impact on the environment, particularly if the alternative is power generated by fossil fuels or nuclear. So BFN could claim to be helping the environment with the Bow Lake project.
But even if you dismiss wind energy opponents’ concerns about its high cost and possible health effects and bird kills, it’s hard to deny the damage turbines can do to a scenic landscape. Just ask folks in Goulais Bay and Goulais River about the blinking red lights of the Prince Wind Farm.
Industrial wind turbines involve an environmental tradeoff. The weighing of environmental benefits against environmental costs is supposed to be done in the review process. But where Bow Lake is concerned, some feel there might be a thumb on the wind farm’s side of the scale.
Local environmental activists Joannie and Gary McGuffin and former Art Gallery of Algoma director Michael Burtch, respected local authorities in their fields, have been complaining of inadequacies in a heritage assessment of the project.
That report, accepted by the Ontario government, failed to mention that the renown Canadian artists of the Group of Seven based a number of their works on vistas in the project area.
A revised report was ordered, but the trio says it admits to only 10 painting sites within 30 kilometers of Bow Lake. The group, who has been identifying Group of Seven sites in Algoma for the past five years, says there are at least 70 within 20 kilometres.
In their view, assessment of the environmental tradeoff seems to be undervaluing cultural heritage, scenic beauty and tourism.
Still, the debate’s big irony is that proponents in the GTA condemn opponents outside of it for having a NIMBY mindset. In his article, Israelson contrasts the “reason” of wind-farm proponents to the “sketchy data” of rural opponents.
Yet the arguments for wind power seem to have fallen on equally deaf ears among citizens and governments in the GTA, judging by its almost total absence of turbines.
During my Toronto visit I say lots of butt-ugly sites that wind turbines could only improve: industrial parks, shopping malls, parking lots, even a corridor of electrical towers transmission towers no longer in use.
I also saw the Scarborough Bluffs. Like the Algoma Highlands, it’s a scenic area that engineers might consider a great place to put wind turbines.
Sure enough, there once was a plan to develop a wind farm at the Scarborough Bluffs, though offshore in Lake Ontario. Understandably, there was stiff opposition to it.
So with the 2011 election looming, Ontario’s Liberal government, in which now-premier Kathleen Wynne played a major role, imposed a moratorium that holds to this day.
Ironically, it’s the same sort of moratorium Wynne refuses to impose today on wind farm developments outside of Toronto’s back yard, in places like Algoma.
tom.mills@sunmedia.ca to contact Tom Mills.