By Michael Den Tandt Toronto Sun
Rural opposition to massive turbine farms in the Ontario countryside won’t blow over
Employees of the wind industry and Ontario Liberal politicians are scratching their heads. Why the fuss about wind turbines?
Some of them still think the furor will blow over. It’s just the griping of a few malcontents and health quacks — people who wear tinfoil helmets in their living rooms to ward off spy beams. The march of progress can’t be stopped. The Green Energy Act is law, turbines are coming to the countryside and that’s it.
Here’s a tip, from the hinterland. This is incorrect. The furor is building, not waning. Premier Dalton McGuinty was already a long shot for a third term. With wind in the mix and barring a radical re-do of the Green Energy Act, he is positioned to lose every rural and small-town seat.
People who live in the country do so by choice. Some stay because we wish to raise our children close to family. Others leave to pursue a career and then eventually come home. And others still, mainly boomers, retire to a small town or a farm because they’re tired of city life.
People who live in small towns or on farms are connected to the countryside in a way that most city people are not. We hunt, fish, cycle, hike, walk or drive through it all the time. Many residents of small towns are linked through family to a farm or plot of land.
For 30 years now, people who live on or near the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Preserve, have lived within the strictures of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. This appointed body tells rural people what they can or cannot build on their property.
There are many rules. They do not account for family circumstances or in many cases for common sense. For example, the NEC won’t permit a landowner to build a second home on a 100-acre plot of land to house an ailing parent. Yet it does permit the Blue Mountain ski resort in Collingwood, Ont.
Despite these seeming contradictions, farmers and landowners have grudgingly learned to live with the NEC. But now along comes Big Wind, propelled by the vision of former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman.
The vision is one in which the Ontario landscape, including land directly proximate to the Escarpment, is festooned with massive industrial turbines. Suddenly, preserving our agricultural and geographic heritage is less important. Indeed, such values don’t even seem to figure in the debate. Nor has there yet been a serious effort to expand nuclear — still the only way to produce huge quantities of energy without emitting carbon.
An irony about current-day Ontario: We have a government that says it is deeply committed to environmental protection. If a rare species of dung beetle is unearthed in a marsh, chances are no building will be allowed there. But disrupting the ecosystem of thousands of rural people? Not a problem. Disrupt away.
There was a good way to bring in wind energy.
The good way would have respected the wishes of communities that chose not to allow industrial-scale projects. It would have induced industry to offer small, farm-sized wind turbines at a reasonable price. It would have made it much easier for people to use wind (or solar) to satisfy their own energy needs, and sell any excess back to the grid. It would have been a local-first movement.
Instead McGuinty chose big industry, backed by big government. In doing so he trampled on the most important political idea to hit rural Canada in modern times: Greater local control of the food supply and stewardship of the land.
No, this revolt will not go away.