Haldimand County epicentre of the green energy debate

By VINCENT BALL/QMI Agency  Niagara Tribune

HALDIMAND – Haldimand County may well be the epicentre of the green energy debate.  And yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a debate about where our energy will come from in the future.

In one corner, there is the Ontario government under Premier Dalton McGuinty. A government that is determined to replace energy produced by the coal-burning Nanticoke Generating Station with green energy by 2014.

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In another corner are people like Rick Prudil, a former president of the Power Workers Union, who is committed to keeping Nanticoke open and saving the more than 400 full-time jobs at the generating station.   Large companies, like Samsung, looking to capitalize on the provincial government’s commitment to green energy are in the ring too and there are others, champions for environmental protection, who have been part of the debate as well. And there are people like Dave Link. He’s a farmer with deep roots in Haldimand County and he, like a lot of others in the area, isn’t so sure about green energy and what it means for the future of his community. That’s because a huge swath of land in the former south Cayuga Township where his family has farmed for generations will soon be home to large solar farms. “The ploughed ground that you see here is Ontario Realty Corporation controlled land owned by the provincial government,” he said, explaining the situation to a visitor. “It has all been ploughed in anticipation of a solar farm development on approximately 900 acres at a minimum in south Cayuga Township. “The property we’re standing on was purchased by my father in the mid-50s and where I grew up. The farm to the north of it is where my dad grew up and spent his entire life until he purchased this property,” Link said. “I’ve been farming this property, renting it from the Ontario government since around 2000.” In 2009, he harvested a good soybean crop from this land and this year it’s been ploughed up but there was no crop in 2010 because it’s a place the government has decided to put solar panels. That means the 2009 soybean crop was the last one to come from that land. “Once the solar panels are up, they’re up for 20 years and there’s a one-year period when the panels could be removed or refurbished to continue solar production,” he said. “But after 20 years if the solar farm is decommissioned, the farmland is unlikely to be farmable from that point onward.”

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// ]]>”After 20 years of solar production the land will have little value for farming.”

The land will be unusable for farming because the top soil was removed in preparation for the solar panels.

“It hurts,” Link said. “It’s where I grew up, it’s where my father and grandfather farmed and I’ve tried to carry on that tradition.

“But now there won’t be that opportunity for me given the current circumstances.”

He’s going to have to scramble for other farmland to keep going and he isn’t the only one. Several other farmers are in the same situation and land is scarce. They’re now all in competition for remaining land to get their farm base up to the level they want.

The provincial government purchased much of the land it now owns in the former south Cayuga Township from area farmers back in the 1970s. Back then, the thinking was that the land would be needed to house people who would be flocking to the area to work at major industrial developments like the refinery, the steel company and the Nanticoke Generating Station.

The influx of people never occurred and since then, farmers have been leasing land from the government and have continued to farm.

Frank Sommer, a retired farmer and past president of the Haldimand Federation of Agriculture, said there is a lot of concern about the province’s green energy plans in the area.

“We do have a lot of concerns,” he said in a thanks for asking tone. “Especially about those solar farms.

“We’re worried about those wind turbines as well but the number one concern around here is the large solar farms.”

The problem is that good farmland is being taken out of production and the way the solar farms are being built the land is being damaged to the extent that it won’t be productive for farming again for many, many years.

“Has anyone really thought this through?” he asks. “Why are we taking good farmland out of production?

“This land produces the feedstock. It’s used to feed the livestock that people eat and it’s being taken out of production.”

If green energy is so important and solar power is one way to generate it, he wonders why the government isn’t putting up solar panels on the roofs of buildings in cities and in industrial areas where they will be closer to hydro lines.

With respect to wind turbines, he and others in the farming community wonder why the government is being so hasty. Why is it all happening so quickly?

“They’re going ahead and allowing these wind turbines to go up without a proper environmental assessment,” he said. “It’s a real sore spot with a lot of people around here that we haven’t had much of a say in what’s happening.

“It’s our community but we really haven’t got much say.”

The provincial government’s Green Energy Act limits a municipal government’s ability to determine where green energy projects will be located. It’s an issue for a lot of municipalities including Brantford where the city council sent a letter of objection to the province.

But the issue is even more pressing for the people of Haldimand where a couple of major green energy projects are planned.

One project is a combined wind-solar farm that could well be the largest in the world and is planned for the south Cayuga. Another calls for up to 100 wind turbines to be erected along the lakeshore in the Nanticoke area.

A third project that would see 40 turbines go up in the Port Dover area would also extend into Haldimand.

Yet another project, a solar farm, has been approved for the Hagersville.

The removal of productive farmland is one issue, the inability to say no is another, but the objections don’t stop there, Sommer said.

“What are we, as a community, getting out of it?” Sommer said. “What good does it do the people of Haldimand if some huge company comes in here and puts up solar panels and wind turbines that have been made elsewhere?

“If we’re going to give up land and have these solar and wind farms here, shouldn’t there be some jobs created as well?”

And while biomass – crops grown for fuel – may be part of the province’s future energy mix and provide an additional market for farmers, there are plenty of questions about biomass as well.

“I’d really like to see someone crunch the numbers. I’d really like to know how much of this biomass would be needed to generate all the electricity that’s generated by coal,” he said. “Have you ever been down there? Have you seen how much coal goes into that place?”

Beyond all that, there is the question of infrastructure or supply chain to support the use of biomass at Nanticoke.

Who is going to collect it, who is going to transport it and who is going process it so it can be used at Nanticoke?

“Does it really make sense to have switchgrass trucked in from all over the place to Nanticoke to produce green energy?” he asks. “Wouldn’t trucking it in from all over kind of defeat the purpose?”

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Employed in the electricity generation business for 35 years Rick Prudil has a few thoughts of his own on green energy and the future of the Nanticoke Generating Station.

He spent 30 years working at Nanticoke and, like a lot of power workers, he’s looking to save the well-paying jobs and the economic spinoffs that the generating station has provided over the years.

Speaking at a recent Green Energy Forum sponsored by Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett in November, Prudil noted that two of Nanticoke’s eight generators were shut down on Oct. 1 and the rest of the generators are scheduled to be shutdown by Dec. 31, 2014.

The shutdown of the two generators in October resulted in the loss of 115 jobs and he fears that’s only the beginning. The remaining 450 full-time jobs as well as thousands of hours at temporary/seasonal work at the station are also in danger of being lost.

“As incredible as it seems, there is no concrete plan in place for the continued operation of any of the Nanticoke units and yet the total shutdown is less than 50 months away,” he said. “Hundreds of employees at the station are deeply disturbed by the lack of progress and we are asking our communities to support us in our efforts to have Nanticoke converted or ‘recycled’ from a coal burning station to a station that burns natural gas complemented by carbon neutral biomass.”

A plan that includes natural gas and ‘Grown-in-Ontario’ biomass can provide significant benefits to the electrical system, economy and the environment, he said.

Biomass, unlike wind and solar generation, can be used when it is most needed, not just when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, he said.

Speaking at the forum and in an earlier interview Prudil said the cost of converting stations to dual-fuel is lower than building new gas plants.

He suggests a two-pronged approach that would see the Nanticoke station converted to natural gas as quickly as possible followed by the introduction of biomass.

“We know biomass can work at Nanticoke, that’s not the issue,” he said. “The problem is that we have to develop the supply chain and that is going to take a few years.”

11 thoughts on “Haldimand County epicentre of the green energy debate

  1. The reason for the rush is that the Liberals know they are going to lose in 2011 and they need to get all they can now. Put in place contracts that are going to destroy this province even more as long as they profit. Self-centred corruption.

  2. Lynne:

    Cut and paste links — I’m trying to avoid the filter…

    You may not be aware of this…
    Cut and Paste: canmetenergy-canmetenergie.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/eng/renewables/canren.html

    CanmetENERGY offers information related to Government of Canada research and development in the following areas:

    * Bioenergy Systems
    etc.

    and
    Eco Action:
    Cut and paste: ecoaction.gc.ca/index-eng.cfm

    And see this re the WPPI program.
    mcmillan.ca/Files/VKakoschke_WindFarmFinancing_0705.pdf

    Somehow I don’t think the feds will be sympathetic to the cause…

  3. It would seem that the Fiberals will not rest until they have destroyed our farmland and the ability of Ontario farmers to feed us. There is after all, only so much topsoil to go around.

    Dalton can be proud of the fact that he “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” to place his solar panels and industrial wind turbines on.

    I do not believe his mother will be proud of him–or his children.

  4. Dalton can be proud of the fact that he “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” to place his solar panels and industrial wind turbines on.

    Somebody wrote a song about that… 😉

  5. The people of Ontario are being asked to accept ENERGY POVERTY in exchange for green renewable energy. This is the name of the game.

    If you don’t believe this then look at what has happened to the people in the U.K. where alternative energy policy has led them into energy poverty.

    Right now many people in the U.K. are suffering from the cold because they can’t afford to use energy to keep warm. Just read some of the news articles in the U.K. newspapers.

  6. I just got home from a older friend’s home, she hasn’t turned on her electric heater in her kitchen yet because of costs and it’s bloody cold in her house.Unfortunatly Liberal MPP’s will never have as low an income as a lot of our seniors, so they will never know the hardships they are causing

  7. Thanks BD,

    So true! And already happening to Ontario seniors. Suspect that other low income people are already experiencing the same problems trying to keep warm.

  8. “The people of Ontario are being asked to accept ENERGY POVERTY in exchange for green renewable energy. This is the name of the game.”

    Barbara, we are being asked to except energy poverty for no reason other then to pad the pockets of greedy green energy thieving bastards!

    In return we GET NOTHING but economic and environmental devastation!

    Liberalism has now become industrialized. As a result, BILLIONS are squandered on everything Liberal: All day kindergarten for three year olds, e-health, LHINs, tuition subsides for foreign students, grants of dubious merit to dubious organizations and green energy just to name the most obvious.

    Liberal political parties HAVE ALWAYS AND WILL ALWAYS lie through their teeth to get elected, corrupt the very institutions of government, steal your money and give it to their like minded friends. Were this not the case, there would not currently be almost 700 organizations in receipt of grants to then lobby the government for green energy subsidies for their own benefit for just ONE example!

    What I find the most shocking is that even in view of this sordid history, liberal political parties continue to be elected and re-elected, not only in Canada, but all around the world. The EU is now paying dearly for this abject criminality to the point where it is well within the bounds of reality we may be witnessing the end of the euro as a globally traded currency. To put it mildly, the most powerful economy in the EU by far –Germany, is a tad PISSED at being forced to subsidize this liberal largess rampant throughout the rest of the EU.

    The next election here in Ontario cannot come soon enough!

    B.B.W.

  9. Just to let you know, because my house is unbearable as a place for restorative sleep, surrounded as it is by 18 Vestas 1.65 MW IWT’s all jammed in within a 3 km radius of the house, I sleep in my son’s trailer in which the night time temperature is 8 deg C.

    Presently, I’m searching for overnight sleeping accomodations for Jan, Feb and Mar when outdoor temperatures may very well drop to – 20 deg C

  10. Maybe it is time for some overnight “sleep-ins” at the Premiers office.

    Remember the 60’s and 70’s?

    It’s time again…

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