by Chip Martin, London Free Press
Chris Bentley promises to listen to suggestions about how to make wind turbines more acceptable in rural areas. But Ontario’s new energy minister, who doubles as the Liberal government’s point man to make peace with rural Ontario, says science shows turbines pose no health risk and he has no plans to let their location be returned to local control.
“The science is on the side of wind turbines,” the London West MPP told The Free Press as Ontario’s new minority government — its first in a generation — opens Monday at Queen’s Park after the October election cost Dalton McGuinty many rural seats. Among other rural irritants, the government took over control from municipalities about where green-energy installations, like industrial wind turbines can go.
“In terms of how we site them . . . I am happy to listen,” Bentley said. “We have a province-wide approach (to locating turbines). If I can strengthen it, I’d like to,” adding he has no interest in a “patchwork” system.
Rural foes hoping Bentley might bring a new approach to the Green Energy Act, under which 900-plus turbines have sprouted, were disappointed there’s no change in the wind with Bentley’s arrival.
Another 2,000 turbines have been approved.
“I’m not looking forward to this,” Esther Wrightman, a director of the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group, said of Bentley’s take.
“I would hope he is listening, but that sounds like he isn’t listening at all,” she said.
Her group is among many that mobilized in the election to defeat Liberals in rural ridings based on opposition to turbines. The Liberals lost 10 seats targeted by anti-wind coalitions, as Conservative Leader Tim Hudak vowed to scrap the government’s Green Energy Act.
“I find it kind of funny that he says the science is good, but he is willing to talk about siting issues,” Wrightman said. “Setbacks are in place because of health and safety risks.”
Wrightman has been battling turbines for two years because her home, just west of Strathroy, will be surrounded by them soon.
Municipalities have been calling for a moratorium on turbines until more health studies are done to ensure they don’t pose hazards to rural residents. Some anti-turbine groups want turbine blades to stop turning on existing projects.
East Zorra-Tavistock has backed a call from its fellow Oxford County municipality of Norwich Twp. for a moratorium on new turbines.
Wrightman said similar calls have been made by North Middlesex, Lambton Shores and Adelaide-Metcalfe.
For his part, Bentley, formerly the attorney general, said he plans to listen to the rural community in his new post.
“Are there some ways we can strengthen the consultative approach that improves the province-wide approach? I am open to suggestions and I am listening. My No. 1 goal is I want to listen and I want to see what good advice people have and if we can craft an even stronger system.”
He conceded some people don’t want turbines and never will.
“There are those who will never say yes, no matter what you do, no matter what the science is, so we know what their position is. But there is broad support for clean air, broad support for renewable energy and it’s part of the green energy economy.”
Bentley said both the provincial and national chief medical officers of health agree there are no health concerns attributable to turbines.
“You have to stay with the evidence,” he said.
He said he’ll consider new or different ways to involve local communities in determining sites for turbines.
“Remember, these projects only get started in a county or community because local people want them,” he said. “Let’s remember that.”
And he noted significant consultation led to Ontario’s Green Energy Act, which encourages renewable energy projects.
He said by focusing on green energy, the Ontario government is cleaning the air and saving millions of dollars on health care for treatment of respiratory problems.
More than 20,000 of the 50,000 green energy jobs promised by the end of 2012 have already been created, he said.
“The world is going green to a greater or lesser degree, but it is going green,” he said, noting Ontario wants to be a leader in creating green jobs.
It appears Bentley faces a significant challenge in his new portfolio winning over rural Ontario.
Wrightman, for one, remains unhappy that Bentley seems willing to deliver more of the same from the province on the energy file.
“I’m not sure how he expects rural residents to make his job easy if this is the mindset we have to work with,” she said.