Jenny Denhartog, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, July 9, 2010
It isn’t often that rural issues get attention in the urban media. Big cities have their own newsworthy issues, and many urbanites cannot relate to the challenges faced by the rural population. But lately I’ve noticed a number of opinion pieces in the urban press reacting to the way Ontario’s government is steamrolling ahead with the Green Energy Act without willingness to consult the rural and farm communities.
Wind power generation in particular is a contentious issue in the countryside. Our local newspaper in Wellington County has used considerable amount of paper to report on the meetings that have taken place, carefully outlining everyone’s opinions and multiple concerns. Wind mills and wind farms in the country affect many rural residents. Clashing opinions about where they should be located, and even if they should be build at all, continue to cause tension in a number of communities.
In rural Ontario, the minimum setback requirement is one of the most contentious issues of all. Residents are concerned about reduced property values, implications for human and animal health and the overall aesthetics of having a number of large turbines within view. Ontario’s government maintains that only environment or safety related concerns are legitimate; any other concerns are to be ignored.
It was interesting to read a column by Lorrie Goldstein in the Toronto Sun recently, reacting to proposed setback requirements for a 60-turbine off-shore wind farm in Lake Ontario. The minimum setback requirement for land based wind farms is 550 meters, or 1800 feet. The proposed requirement for the off-shore project is five kilometers, or three miles. This is nine times the minimum distance for rural projects.
In his column, Goldstein reports on the Energy Minister’s reason for this five kilometer proposal, which was quoted to be in response to “the concerns of some moderate people, who were concerned if they go to the beach, they could be looking up at a huge wind turbine.” In other words, the proposal is in reaction to urbanites’ concerns about aesthetics, which is not considered to be a valid concern in rural areas. While it’s important to note that the ministry gives a different set of reasons than the Minister did, the Energy Minister’s comment solidly indicates a different set of rules for urban compared to rural.
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has suggested a more community oriented approach to rural wind energy projects. If our rural communities had received the same level of consideration from our government as voter-rich urban centers, much of the tension could have been avoided and green energy projects in rural Ontario could even have been welcomed by our rural residents.
Jenny Denhartog is the Secretary to Boards and Committees of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.