Greg Layson, Guelph Mercury
GUELPH — Rural residents of Wellington County are demanding to know whether their municipal governments have the right to veto the development of wind farms.
Residents — and the opposition at Queen’s Park, as well — want provincial Environment Minister John Wilkinson to clarify statements he made on the record in May.
Five months ago, Wilkinson, who at the time was the Minister of Revenue, addressed Mapleton Township council. A resident asked him if there was anything the township could do to stop the proliferation of wind farms.
Wilkinson said a company’s application for a wind farm development must include the township’s signature for it to be complete.
Wilkinson was quoted as saying, “If the application is not complete, the project will not proceed.”
“I read that to mean the township’s signature meant something,” concerned Wellington County resident Laura Humphrey said in an interview. “What we want to know is, does the signature mean anything?”
Now, as Environment Minister, Wilkinson has said his ministry has final say on the development of wind farms and that municipalities only need to be “consulted” during a company’s application process.
“He’s made two very different statements about the approval process,” said Wellington-Halton Hills Tory MPP Ted Arnott, who raised the issue in the legislature on Oct. 4.
“We want a clear answer,” said Simcoe-Grey Tory MPP Jim Wilson.
On Tuesday, Wilson kept close watch over Premier Dalton McGuinty as the Liberal leader toured Melitron Corp. in Guelph to tout the province’s Green Energy Act.
Wilkinson’s press secretary, Grahame Rivers, tried to clarify the seemingly conflicting statements. Rivers said Wilkinson was referring to municipalities signing off on the fact that two public consultations had taken place as part of the application process.
“What does that consultation mean?” Humphrey asked.
Rivers said consultation is built into the application process and that requires wind farm proponents to identify the concerns of the municipalities and take measures to address those concerns. Companies proposing a wind farm must hold two public forums.
“Should there be outstanding concerns or forms or if the municipality doesn’t sign off on the consultation, a director from the Ministry of Environment will follow up and address outstanding concerns,” Rivers said.
“Speaking from personal experience, our community has written hundreds of well-researched letters to the wind companies because we were told to participate in the consultations,” Humphrey said. “The response from the wind farm companies has been that they are going to follow the provincial government guidelines and they want to move ahead.”
Rivers said the province ultimately decides on the approval of wind farms.
And McGuinty, flanked by Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, offered little hope to rural Ontario when asked why municipalities don’t have the right to veto wind farms.
“People want clean energy. What are we going to do?” he said while throwing up his arms after being pressed for an answer.
“People also want a reasonable level of input on a decision that affects their community,” Arnott said.
Humphrey said wind farms hinder health, tourism and the environment in rural Ontario.
Arnott has repeatedly said the government’s Green Energy Act has stripped municipalities of decision-making authority.
“Our party has stated if we form government we’ll restore power to municipal planning,” Arnott said.