By Darren Taylor, Special to SAULT THIS WEEK
Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District residents packed the Alexander Henry High School cafeteria Thursday night to voice their concerns over the Ontario government’s Green Energy Act.
Sault MP Tony Martin and a newly developed organization dubbed Save Ontario’s Algoma Region or SOAR hosted the public forum. Sault MPP David Orazietti and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Brown took questions and heard concerns from the public, and the two men were clearly on the hot seat.
Many who asked questions and voiced their feelings were visibly frustrated and angry over the McGuinty provincial government’s Green Energy Act, particularly over what they said was a lack of public consultation over proposed erection of wind turbines in the Algoma region.
SOAR provided literature that claimed there are as many as 600 wind turbines or more planned by the private sector for the region and awaiting approval by the Province, including proposed projects in Goulais, Heyden, Ranger Lake, Stokley, Nimaasing, Mica Bay and Bow Lake, as well as off shore turbines to be erected in Lake Superior.
SOAR called for Orazietti and Brown to ensure the Ontario government provides answers as to whom the promoters are behind the projects, how many environmental studies have been done, how much Crown and private land will be affected, how many applications have been approved, what stage has each of the projects reached, and when public information meetings will be held. SOAR wants a study done that shows the cumulative ecological and social effect of all Ontario wind farms, not just one study at a time.
Presenter Gillan Richards, of the SOAR Steering Committee, told Sault This Week “What we want from the government is the right to have all information for the public for proposed projects for wind industry projects for this area. We want direct and meaningful input to them [the government and the private sector that installs the turbines] to let them know if we even want them, where we want them, and when we want them. It has to be something which is locally driven, and not imposed upon us by the central government of Southern Ontario.”
“What we’ve learned is the wind industry is inefficient. They [wind turbines] are really not as green as people think. When you establish a wind turbine complex you have to deforest the area, then dig down to bedrock to put the turbine bases in and you fill that hole with hundreds of tons of cement, and then you put up the towers, as well as electrical lines under the ground to connect the towers, and by that time all the transmissions of electricity are affecting the wildlife habitat.”
Nevertheless, Orazietti told the audience the Province’s Green Energy Act is all about responding to global warming and climate change.
“I would like to be able to tell all of you we could produce electricity through coal-fired plants at a much cheaper rate, but that’s not the world we live in.”
Orazietti told Sault This Week, “We’re challenged in the province of Ontario and I think the people of Ontario expect us to deal responsibly with climate change and global warming, that we produce clean energy, and that we do that in a way that doesn’t put peoples’ health at risk.”
In answer to SOAR’s claims that perhaps more than 600 turbines are to be erected north of Sault Ste. Marie, Orazietti told the audience “What is being proposed now are about one third of the number of turbines at Prince Township …36 turbines, more likely only 24, are at Step 5 in the application process for Bow Lake,” pointing out that “there are 15 stages to the approval process. There is one development that is at Stage 2 and another at Stage 5. There are a lot of “ifs” to each application to put up turbines, before they get approved by Ontario Power Authority.”
Orazietti also said it is “highly unlikely” that there will be any wind turbines placed in Lake Superior, though SOAR insists they would like to see that in writing.
The forum became heated at times. One irate member of the public told Orazietti and Brown “Why don’t you build wind turbines down in Southern Ontario? We don’t need them here.”
Brown responded by stating most turbines are located in southeastern Ontario, in the Kingston and Picton areas.
SOAR also provided information on the wind energy industry’s possible adverse effects on health, stating that wind turbine noise, including low frequency noise, may cause increased stress and sleep disorders in people living near wind turbines.
Orazietti told Sault This Week, “I think we know what the effects of coal are [on health]. We know what the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels are. I think Ontarians want to know that their children, generations from now, are going to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. That’s our priority to do that in a way that’s responsible.”
Promising forum participants and the audience to take all of the input from Thursday night’s meeting back to his colleagues at Queen’s Park, Orazietti said after the meeting “We were here to listen tonight. There were genuine concerns expressed tonight. Mike Brown and I attended this forum to get first hand information from residents. It’s our job to do that. We will absolutely keep in touch with SOAR, and any resident can contact me in regard to these projects.”
Asked if she were satisfied with the forum, Richards said “I think the Green Energy Act is a very strong influence on the McGuinty governments thinking. To ask them to go back and bring back information that would contravene the Act would be difficult for them to do. We hope Mr. Orazietti and Mr. Brown will take our concerns to the provincial government, and we’re still not giving up what we’re doing here.”
In what SOAR is taking as a positive sign, Ministry of Natural Resources staffers approached SOAR members after the meeting and told them they are willing to sit down and go over the maps, share accurate and updated information, and clarify exactly what is and what is not happening and where in terms of wind farm development.
Forum co-host Sault MP, New Democrat Tony Martin, said little at the meeting except to thank all those who attended for their participation and called the forum “an excellent exercise in grass-roots democracy.”
Still, the forum was not merely confined to a group of citizens bringing their con-c erns to elected officials. Party politics was evident. The audience included many NDP supporters questioning Liberals Orazietti and Brown, while Orazietti took care to point out to the audience that the provincial NDP had supported the Green Energy Act in 2009. He slammed the Progressive Conservatives for opposing it.