Jim Vanden Hoek and the Wind Indu$try

“How are we going to bury this [$900 restaurant tab]?” Vanden Hoek asked the hapless official.  To the mayor’s great relief, the OPG executive reached for the bill.

“Let me take care of that,” said the OPG suit. “I’ll just add it to your public debt.”      (Laughter all around)

Telling Stories

Wellington Times

 Jim Vanden Hoek likes to tell it as it is. It’s why the mayor from Frontenac Islands, which includes Wolfe Island, was such an inspired choice to speak about his community’s experience with wind power at a public meeting in Picton last week. Next month the first of 86, 410-foot wind turbines will be erected across Wolfe Island – dramatically altering the landscape on this minature version of Prince Edward County for at least the next 20 years (the term of the contract with the developer)

For Vanden Hoek, Frontenac’s gravy train has finally pulled in. It had been a long drought, Union Carbide had been planning a large chemical plan on the island in the ’80s a couple decades ago. But a leak in one of their pesticide plants in Bhopal killed 3,800 people instantly in 1984 – 15,000 were dead within a month. Wolfe Islands chemical production future also died that day.

A few other would-be developers came and went but it was only when prospectors started talking about the money that could be made in the wind did Vanden Hoek see a chance to change his township’s fortunes.

The Frontenac Islands mayor told a wonderfully illuminating story at the end of his talk in Picton last Wednesday.

The mayor was unsatisfied with the small-time nature of the early speculators on Wolfe Island. He decided to approach Ontario Power Generation (OPG) – the arm of the former Ontario Hydro that produces electricity. OPG wasn’t particularly interested, but Vanden Hoek figured if he could get the speculators and OPG in the same room – he might be able to kick-start a wind engery project with some capital behind it.

Vanden Hoek, as he recounted last week, invited the lot of them, two would-be developers and an OPG executive, out to diner along with the township’s chief administrative officer.

“We are a small municipality,” said the story-telling mayor. “I was hoping they would order the smallest thing on the menu and perhaps a glass of wine.”

But instead, the party dined like kings and consumed vast quantities of expensive wine. When the bill arrived, almost $900 was owed to the restaurant. Vanden Hoek gave his township’s CAO a look of panic.

“How are we going to bury this?” he asked the hapless official.

To the mayor’s great relief, the OPG executive reached for the bill.

“Let me take care of that,” said the OPG suit. “I’ll just add it to your public debt.”

Even the crowd at the Prince Edward County Community Centre last week giggled uncomfortably at the punchline.

In one brilliant story, Vanden Hoek managed to reveal with stunning clarity why municipalities and developers are chasing the wind – public money.

The richness of the joke lies amid the $20 billion of “stranded” debt Ontario Hydro left behind when Mike Harris cleaved the former utility into Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One (the grid operator). So massive a legacy of government mismanagement, it now has its own line on your electricity bill each month. Personally I paid $10.15 last month to help repay this debt – and Jim Vanden Hoek’s supper party, it turns out.

Jim Vanden Hoek doesn’t know if wind energy is good for the province, or good for Wolfe Island for that matter. He doesn’t care. Jim Vanden Hoek cares about money – plain and simple. $7,500 per turbine per year (with escalation provisions). For that kind of money he is happy to repeat the developer’s nonsensical lie that the electricity generated on Wolfe Island will power Kingston.

The most troubling part is that he is probably right. In his own down-home pragmatic way Vanden Hoek probably did as well as he could have under the circumstances. For the province is intent on planting more than 3,000 massive turbines in communities like Wolfe Island, Prince Edward County, Erie Shores and Kincardine over the next couple of decades Municipalities are being advised in a none too subtle a manner that they can either get on the gravy train or get out of the way.

The province knows wind energy won’t address their energy needs in the slightest – but the McGuinty government has calculated that they need a green diversion. They hope that electors will focus on the big white propellers and won’t notice all the nuclear plants popping up – or that the coal plants are still here.

To do this they are cynically planning on throwing literally billions of dollars at wind developers and turbine manufacturers. As a spinoff they hope to create a couple thousand steel production and metal bending jobs – as they twist foreign manufacturers to build their wind machine in Ontario.

So Vanden Hoek and Mayor Leo Finnegan need to belly up to the trough and gobble up as much public money as they can, while they can. For this house of cards will tumble down eventually.

In time the public will grow weary of subsidizing developers and municipalities for a technology that doesn’t work. They will insist upon a more informed and honest discussion of energy supply and demand. That is when our infatuation with industrial wind energy will end.

The only question then will be the first one asked at the community centre in Picton last week: Who will take these monstrosities down?