Posted By Luke Hendry The Intelligencer
GLEN MILLER — Ontario could become a North American environmental leader, but municipalities can’t stand in the way of wind power.
That was the message Tuesday from Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman as he toured a hydroelectric plant here.
Smitherman, also Ontario’s deputy premier, praised Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. for its operation of the eight-megawatt plant.
“We are very, very proud that a lot of the investment that is occurring is taking place in the private sector,” Smitherman said. “We have many more opportunities here to create energy from what Mother Nature gives us from the wind and the sun and the water.”
He promoted Ontario’s new Green Energy and Green Economy Act, saying it will make the province not only greener, but more prosperous.
“We think the Green Energy Act can create some 50,000 jobs.”
But asked later about some municipalities’ hesitance to embrace wind power, Smitherman said resistance isn’t an option.
“We passed a law, and the law does not create an opportunity for municipalities to resist these projects just because they may have a concern,” he said. “The Green Energy Act creates strong motivation to enhance renewable energy projects in the province of Ontario.”
Some critics have cited concerns — and studies — about possible negative health effects resulting from wind farms.
Last December, Prince Edward County councillors approved a motion asking public agencies to research further the effects of wind turbines and establish guidelines for the turbines’ placement.
“Already the bill makes some progress on that,” Smitherman said, explaining that with regard to health concerns, “the Ministry of Environment has responsibility for taking all of that information which is available into consideration.”
He said that will determine the distances required between homes and turbines and those distances are going to be greater than those elsewhere.
“That is an acknowledgment that we need to make sure the setbacks are appropriate and established based on good evidence,” said Smitherman.
He said the province is also making progress on eliminating its reliance upon coal and planning new nuclear plants.
“Our commitment is to entirely eliminate coal by 2014 and this is going to be achieved. We’ve brought a lot of new supply online already and we have more new supply in the pipeline so we’re in very, very good shape.
“This is a profoundly strong statement, and Ontario is a real leadership role in North America,” Smitherman said. “Our goal is to be a green jurisdiction and to reap the environmental and economic benefits associated with that.”
Ontario’s reliance upon nuclear power remains high, he said, and his ministry is working to ensure its generating plants are of varying ages, with two proposed for Darlington.
“The time is coming where it’s necessary to look at renewing our fleet,” he said.
Smitherman said the controversial form of electricity generation is welcome in both Darlington and on the Bruce peninsula.
“The local communities are very, very enthusiastic and I think that’s one of the best commentaries about the good track record we’ve had with nuclear power in Ontario.”
He also said the government is “raising the bar” toward becoming a North American leader in green energy.
“If we take those steps, we can achieve good environmental success but also good economic success in terms of getting more jobs for people in the province of Ontario.”
Michel Letellier, president and chief executive officer of Innergex, had both thanks and a request for Smitherman.
“You have done a great job in bringing these initiatives forward,” said Letellier.
However, he said, his company has had to apply for many permits, and Letellier suggested the government could “make those challenges less cumbersome.”