by Diana Mehta, iPolitics
WATERLOO, Ont. – Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is styling himself as the saviour of Ontario communities burdened by controversial wind farms, saying he’ll act in the best interests of concerned residents even in areas where projects are underway.
The move has prompted the Liberals — who bill themselves as vital proponents of green energy in the province — to suggest a Tory government would discourage international investment in the sector.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Waterloo, Ont., on Monday, Hudak said his Conservative values mean he respects the sanctity of a contract, but if elected Oct. 6, the Tory leader said he’d look very closely at the details of deals which have significantly upset locals.
“I said I’d respect existing contracts,” Hudak said. “I have said though, if there are projects, like these massive industrial wind farms that don’t make sense for communities, aren’t in the interests of Ontario rate payers, we will look at the termination clauses.”
Green energy is fast becoming a key sparring ground in the election campaign with the Liberals saying their green initiatives are creating jobs that will move the province into the future and the Tories arguing that the job claims are overstated while solar and wind energy drive hydro rates up.
Hudak, who has already committed to scrapping a $7-billion wind and solar energy deal from Korea-based Samsung, said Ontario cannot afford to keep signing “pie-in-the-sky” deals that drive up hydro rates while giving subsidies to big companies.
The subsidies are a reference to the Liberal government’s green energy feed-in tariff program, which the Tories have pledged to cancel.
“I’ll listen to communities and I’ll do what’s in the best interests of families that pay the bills,” Hudak said when questioned on his plans for wind projects already underway.
Premier Dalton McGuinty renewed his attack on Hudak’s plans to squash the Samsung deal by suggesting the Tory leader didn’t take foreign investment in green energy seriously.
“I’m just wondering how is Mr. Hudak, as premier if he were to enjoy that wonderful privilege, going to lead a trade mission around the world when people say ‘Well hang on a second now, you cancelled a $7-billion contract with Samsung. Why do we want to do business with you?”‘ McGuinty said while campaigning in Toronto.
“So at a time when the global economy and global investors crave certainty and predictability and stability, it’s really important that we maintain our feed-in tariff program, that we continue with our Green Energy Act.”
Despite the Liberal touting of solar and wind energy, there are a growing number of agitated residents in communities where wind turbines have been erected or proposed for the future.
In one example, a southwestern Ontario family is suing over a wind farm they claimed was damaging their health, saying they have suffered vertigo, nausea and sleep disruption because of the Kent Breeze wind farm.
A grassroots organization of Ontario residents, suggests the Liberal plan to place industrial wind power plants across the province is “tearing apart the very fabric of rural Ontario.” The group’s website cites health concerns from the noise and vibrations turbines make, which leads to sleep deprivation in those with homes close to the sites.
The Tories suggest the concerns are another negative stemming from the wind projects, which they call a key factor in soaring household costs.
“Seniors are paying enough for hydro, small businesses are paying enough for hydro,” said Hudak.
“People are looking for change from this Dalton Knows Best policy, where he decides in his office in Queen’s Park where power plants are going to go over local objections.”
Hudak has also promised a moratorium on wind turbines in the past.
McGuinty has acknowledged the controversy over his government’s wind projects but has said there were also many Ontario farmers who applied to earn extra cash from the government’s generous payments for wind and solar energy with their own projects.
The Liberals have also said they’re funding a university chair to conduct a study on Ontario windmills.
Hudak’s wind contract comments came a day after he pounced on McGuinty for promising to halt construction on a long-planned but controversial gas-fired plant — a move opposition parties call a crass attempt to secure votes.
Hudak questioned why McGuinty had one policy for gas plants and another for wind farms.
“When it comes to these industrial wind farms, why is Dalton McGuinty forcing them on communities across the province? Why does he have one policy for gas plants and different policy for wind farms?” Hudak asked. “I guess he’s writing off his Liberal candidates in those ridings.”
Hudak also took at jab at the New Democrats on Monday, lumping their energy platform with the Liberals’.
“If we stay on Dalton McGuinty or Andrea Horwath’s expensive energy policies, I worry these young people won’t get jobs in Ontario because nobody will be creating those jobs,” he said as he stood surrounded by students in a trades workshop at Conestoga College in Waterloo.
The NDP meanwhile have said they support renewable energy but think the Liberals fumbled when they cut communities out of the discussion on new projects.