by Emma Reilly, The Hamilton Spec
Hamilton’s city council wants to ban wind turbines from being built inside its city limits. Glanbrook Councillor Brenda Johnson introduced a motion at the last city council meeting asking the province for a moratorium on wind turbines in Hamilton until further studies are completed. Johnson — whose motion came at the height of the provincial election campaign — says it’s not clear what effects the towers have on things ranging from human health to bee population, and thinks the province should look more closely at these issues.
But environmental groups say that sends the wrong message. If Hamilton wants to reinvigorate its sagging manufacturing sector and attract green businesses, it should promote the creation of wind turbines — not block it.
Councillor Brian McHattie says the motion could also have political implications at the provincial level now that Premier Dalton McGuinty — the man behind the Green Energy Act — has a minority government.
Johnson’s motion first asked for a province-wide moratorium on industrial wind turbines. However, after pushback from her council colleagues, Johnson dropped the request for an all-out provincial ban on wind turbines and instead asked for a comprehensive health study and a ban on the turbines in Hamilton alone. It passed unanimously.
Johnson — who worked for Environment Hamilton before becoming a city councillor — says she was torn between her environmental background, the potential revenue the turbines can bring into the agricultural sector, and the concerns coming from her constituents.
However, after speaking with farmers in her area — who were also opposed to the turbines — Johnson pushed ahead with her motion.
“The bottom line is I was hired to be the voice for Ward 11’s residents,” Johnson said.
Johnson points out that 70 other Ontario municipalities have asked the province for a moratorium on wind turbines. She also says the Green Energy Act, introduced by the McGuinty Liberals, does not give cities any say whatsoever in where the turbines are built.
“We’re just so focused on getting things done and going it bigger and better that we haven’t stepped back and said, ‘Let’s take a look at this and make sure it’s the right thing to do,’” she said.
As soon as studies prove turbines are safe, Johnson said, “I’ll be the first one to jump on the bus and say ‘let’s go.’”
Councillor Brian McHattie, who often allies with Johnson on environmental issues around the council table, said he thought Johnson’s motion was “a bit of a jab at McGuinty and his green energy act.”
McHattie points out that PC leader Tim Hudak is also wary of wind turbines and Glanbrook is part of his provincial riding.
“Perhaps it has repercussions that way,” he said.
McHattie said he didn’t expect Johnson’s motion to ask for a moratorium across the province — especially given her history at Environment Hamilton.
“I was a little surprised that she wanted Ontario wide, certainly,” he said. “But when you become a city councillor, you need to represent your constituents as well as your core beliefs, and sometimes the two become cloudy.”
Bill Thompson, the Hamilton spokesperson for the environmental group Blue Green Canada, said Johnson’s motion appears to contradict another resolution council passed earlier this year to continue promoting a green economy.
“It’s sort of puzzling to me,” he said.
He also points out that both Ontario and Hamilton’s medical officers of health say there are no proven health risks associated with the turbines. Passing this motion may send a negative message to green businesses who have the potential to reinvigorate Hamilton’s manufacturing landscape.
“I’d be worried that it would send that (message). It’s like we decide we want to build electric automobiles but we don’t want them driving in the city,” he said.
“It’s peculiar that a small NIMBY group has this kind of influence over city council.”