Residents of Tiny Amherst Island, near Kingston, Ont., have lost a mighty battle. At stake: wind turbines – a flashpoint wherever they rear their pointy heads. While the island covers only 65 square miles, the dispute puts a sharp focus on big issues plaguing the Ontario government: the soaring cost of electricity; a bungled attempt to promote green energy using rich public subsidies that stretches back to former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty; and a seemingly insensitive determination to push through the turbines that locals say will badly compromise local ecosystems.
The latest blow came in February, when the Ontario Divisional Court ruled against island residents, dismissing their appeal of a decision of the Environmental Review Tribunal. The ruling caps a pitched, 10-year battle between the province and the islanders, including high-profile champions like Margaret Atwood and Roberta Bondar. It clears the way for 26 turbines, 50 storeys high, to be built by Windlectric Inc., a subsidiary of Algonquin Power and Utilities Co.
Residents have been howling that the proposal is both unnecessary and detrimental to human health and local wildlife, including the endangered Blandings turtle. Also known as Ontario’s “smiling turtle,” this homely but charming creature is under threat throughout its range in central North America.
So, unless there are further appeals or political backtracking, it appears the island will be getting the turbine monstrosities – even though the new power may not be needed. According to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), as of December 2016, Ontario has more than 3,800 megawatts of installed wind-power capacity, contributing 6%-10% of its overall supply. The Amherst turbines will add only 75 megawatts of power.
All this, while the cost of electricity is soaring – partly to pay for these kinds of projects. Since 2006, the rate for power has risen dramatically, from a peak use price of 10.5¢ a kilowatt-hour to 18¢ now. And, while Ontario recently granted an 8% tax rebate to alleviate some of the pain for consumers and small businesses, the province’s rates remain the highest in Canada.
A source of more head-scratching: why are controversial and likely unneeded facilities being built when demand for power has flatlined since 2008? Ontario has so much power, the surplus is sold to Quebec and New York at rates well below those paid by Ontario residents.
In the lust to go green, many foolish steps have been taken. For one, the technology we are now committed to for decades to come may be doomed to be the Betamax of its generation, with the future expected to see much smaller wind-powered structures replacing today’s behemoths.
We’ve scrapped fossil fuels for power generation – and that’s a good thing. But when the Liberals signed expensive, fixed 20-year deals with private companies to produce green energy, a terrible debt was handed off to future generations. Ontario must account for its bad decision-making: a unique corner of the province will be industrialized, to little purpose.
And a struggling turtle will pay the biggest price.
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