By Peter Hendra, The Whig-Standard
Janet Grace is thrilled that a senator is turning the spotlight on the fight against installing wind turbines on Amherst Island. “We’ve been trying to get the feds involved in this for a long time and finally they’re taking some note,” said Grace, who is president of the Association for the Protection of Amherst Island. “That kind of support is huge for us right now. Huge.”
Bob Runciman, the senator for Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, presented a motion at Senate on Wednesday calling for a moratorium on wind energy projects in the area stretching from Wolfe Island to Prince Edward County.
It was unanimously endorsed by the Senate.
Runciman said Monday the motion is more of a symbolic gesture than a concrete one.
“If it is passed, it’s just a view of the Senate, really, saying you should do this,” he said.
The 29-year Queen’s Park veteran, however, said he intends to bring the issue to the attention of the federal government.
“This is provincial jurisdiction — there’s no doubt about it — but I think that the federal government can play a role here in terms of expressing concern and making sure that’s out there as well,” he said.
Those opposing the wind turbine project on Amherst Island have been trying to get the federal government involved for some time, Grace said.
“This is not just a provincial problem, it’s a national problem,” she said. “It’s a national awareness campaign we need to start pushing.”
Wind turbines are scheduled to be built on Amherst Island beginning in 2013, Grace said, and the number that will be built remains to be seen. She is hoping to learn more Tuesday when the project developer, Algonquin Power, holds a pubic information meeting on the island.
While she’s hoping to be told where on the island the turbines will be built, she isn’t betting on it. Landowners who have agreed land for turbines are contractually obliged to keep that information to themselves, she said.
While many landowners rejected offers to have turbines built on their property, Grace said she understands why some did not.
“It’s really preying (on) a weakness that’s there,” she said. “Perhaps farmers are struggling a little bit. It’s not the landowners’ fault — anyone would be enticed by this if you were living on the edge.”
Grace said that she and others opposed to the project will stage a protest prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
In the meantime, she and others will be boarding a bus this morning to travel to the Ontario Legislature to show their support for Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith’s private member’s bill, which aims to give municipalities the power to decide rules about where green energy projects can be located.
Like Smith, Runciman believes that turbines were a divisive issue in the last election, and one of the reasons Smith defeated former minister Leona Dombrowsky in the fall.
“If (the Liberal-led government is) stepping back and assessing what happened in the provincial election, they’ll take a look at losing ministers in ridings where the whole issue of windmills was the prominent issue,” Runciman said.
Meanwhile, he hopes his motion will at least spur the provincial government into taking a closer look at groups’ concerns.
“I’ve said before that this is not going to have any long-term impact on meeting our energy needs if they do a thorough assessment, especially in this particular area, when we look at what the long-term impacts are going to be in terms of protecting bird and bat populations,” he said.
While he’s “not here to knock wind energy at all,” Runciman is primarily concerned about the placement of turbines in relation to winged creatures’ migratory pathways, not the possible effects of human health.
“It’s a tough thing to get interested in, or aroused about, but I’ve got a soapbox here and I hope to be able to utilize it to help the cause,” he said.
Runciman and his wife, Jeannette, got interested in the issue, he said, after reading reports about the effect the wind turbines on Wolfe Island were having on the bird and bat populations.
“One of the things I’ve been concerned about is the lack of concern being expressed by a lot of environmental groups, wildlife groups, who I think have been very quiet on this because it’s sort of politically correct to support green energy despite whatever the cost might be,” Runciman said.
“I felt that I was going to get engaged and (that) grew out of the concerns of my wife and I.”
Runciman — who served in six different provincial cabinet posts, including solicitor general and minister of correctional services — said that, unbeknownst to many, he is a “nature lover.”
“This has sort of been a lifelong interest of mine, these kinds of issues,” Runciman explained.
“It’s just not something I’ve had the profile with in my years in the Legislature.”