by Don Crosby, Owen Sound Sun Times
Ontario’s minister of agriculture defends the government’s handling of the controversial renewal energy policies as part of a 25-year plan to develop a sustainable energy system while getting rid of coal-fired generators.
“When we talk about energy we have to have a comprehensive policy; renewables are a part of that,” Carol Mitchell told a round table forum put on by the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture on Saturday.
Nuclear power provides the baseload of electricity supplemented by other forms of renewable energy including hydro generation, solar power, bio-energy and wind turbines.
“It is a multifaceted (policy). It’s developed with the understanding that this strategy gives us the opportunity to close down coal (generated electricity) in 2014,” Mitchell explained.
The minister addressed concerns raised by critics of the government’s renewable energy policies contained in the Green Energy and Green Economy Act which takes away planning approval powers by local and county councils and replaces it with a poorly-defined consultation process.
“There is a consultation component contained within the Green Energy Act that in order for an application to be successful the proponents must consult with the municipality. The municipality does not have the authority to veto but the municipality, I can tell you, has the ability to provide information that will directly affect the application,” Mitchell said.
Arran-Elderslie’s deputy-mayor Mark Davis didn’t get the answers he was looking for when he asked Mitchell whether she believed that wind turbines caused health problems. She answered by saying that Ontario has the toughest set back standards in North America.
“Not surprised but extremely disappointed. Is there something wrong in this world that an elected official can’t give a straight answer yes or no,” Davis said.
“Twice or three times I asked her does she believe industrial wind turbines are affecting some people’s health. The Green Energy Act has a lot of unanswered questions but were not going get them here today from this lady,” he added.
Mitchell explained later during an interview that the evidence available to the government indicates no relationship between industrial wind turbines and health related problems.
“We know from the chief medical officers of health reports and every report that we’ve seen and also a ruling by the supreme court that there is no direct correlation. Do I believe we need more work on protocol. Absolutely. That’s all part of it,” Mitchell said.
Last Thursday at a meeting of a working group on wind energy representing municipalities in Grey, Bruce and Dufferin counties, Davis said it’s time to invite Premier Dalton McGuinty and other members of the legislature to the area to talk to people about the effects of wind turbines in their lives.
On Saturday West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles, another member of the inter-municipality group on wind energy, said the invitation is being broadened to include all MPPs.
“The invitation at this time would be for a small meeting. It wouldn’t be open to the public and it wouldn’t be open to the press. It would be open to two or three people living near wind turbines who are having some problems whether they be economic, health or whatever their problems are and be able to sit down with the premier or a group of MPPs along with two or three people who are fully in favour of wind turbines,” Eccles said.
Mitchell said she’s visited a number of wind farms located in her Huron-Bruce riding and promised that when she receives the invitation she will give it some thought and respond to it.
She also faced questions over what her ministry is planning to do about predator control especially as it relates to the upturn in coyote kills throughout the province. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for compensation while the Ministry of Natural Resources is responsible for predator control measures.
Paul Wettlaufer, speaking on behalf of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s predator task team, put forth eight recommendations that range from the use of non lethal snares and cost sharing measures by federal and provincial governments for fencing to control predation to improving the training of live stock evaluators as well as investigate the effectiveness of noise makers and intermittent lights as a way of scaring off predators.
Wettlauffer was particularly insistent on a recommendation to allow limited night hunting of coyotes — a time he says when coyotes seem less vigilant. He didn’t include a call for a cull saying it’s not seen as a good move.
Wettlaufer noted that in Bruce County alone the cost of compensation had risen almost eight fold to $35,569.95 in 2010 up from $4,581.70 in 2003.
Mitchell referred to proposals prepared by her ministry and contained on the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) web site. She said the strategy proposes to update compensation which hasn’t been changed in 30 years and includes an expanded predator list.
“This is an issue I’ve heard of every year I sat at the table and 30 years is too long; that needs to be addressed. (The strategy) is an aggregate of all of the discussion that happened during the summer and then people sent in their comments. It also speaks to our recommendations on compensation, increasing the list of predators . . . there are several different scenarios. This is the final round of consultation and then we bring forward the recommendations attached to that will be a strategy from MNR and attached to that will be a group of people in charge of implementation,” Mitchell said.