Residents fighting a wind turbine project on Ontario’s Amherst Island have renewed hope that anger over soaring rural electricity prices will force the provincial government to take a second look at renewable energy development.
The Association to Protect Amherst Island (APAI) has argued the plan to build 26 wind turbines on the island threatens human health and puts 25 species at risk.
“We’re changing from a quiet rural residential peaceful community to an industrial park of wind,” said APAI president Michele Le Lay, who retired on Amherst Island for its tranquil beauty and stunning views.
“We can’t let that happen. This island is too precious,” Le Lay told Global News.
After more than two years of environmental reviews, the province approved the project in August 2015. The group’s efforts to halt construction hit a wall when APAI’s appeal was dismissed by the Environmental Review Tribunal. The group recently asked Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to intervene, arguing the project could violate the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
But the Liberal government’s recent byelection loss in Scarborough-Rouge River offers a new opportunity to be heard. The loss of a safe Liberal seat in Ontario revealed just how angry voters have become over soaring hydro rates, and put a new spotlight on the cost of green energy projects like wind and solar.
“Their platform is being pulled out from under them because the green energy act is costing them so much money,” says Amherst Island resident Denise Wolfe, who is also a member of APAI.
Under the Green Energy Act, those projects are being expanded and heavily subsidized. A 2015 report by Ontario’s Auditor General estimated consumers could end up paying $9.2 billion more for renewable energy over their 20-year contracts. That’s because guaranteed prices are set at double the U.S. market price for wind and 3.5 times for solar over the previous year.
One thing that really angers residents opposed to the project is the fact that the Lennox gas plant on the mainland is idle most of the time. The plant has more than enough generating capacity but its sole purpose is to meet Ontario’s peak demand on the hottest and coldest days of the year.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said that power will be needed to backfill Ontario’s supply, since plans to refurbish nuclear reactors will take those power sources offline. But she admitted her government is taking a second look at its energy policy.
“We will be moving into reviewing of the long term energy plan very shortly so there will be a discussion about what that long term energy plan will be and how we are doing in terms of capacity,” Wynne said on September 16.
For residents on Amherst Island it’s not just about questioning the economics. It’s also about their community being torn apart. The controversy over the wind turbine project has pitted neighbour against neighbour.
Among the residents who support the project are Wayne and Karen Fleming. Their family has owned a farm on the island for five generations. The Flemings signed a contract for a wind turbine on their land.
“That money is not big bucks,” Wayne Fleming said, adding he is not actually sure how much his payout will be each year the windmill operates. “But that may be enough to keep the next generation interested in staying on the farm.”
Karen Fleming said the controversy over the windmills being built harkens back to when power lines were put up around the island. She believes history will prove investing in renewable energy was the right thing to do. But even she questions the Liberal energy policies.
“This green energy it works, it’s worked in other countries,” she said. “Just because the government doesn’t know how to make it work doesn’t mean it’s not workable.”