by Stewart Fast; postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, Queen’s University
The sweeping changes to Ontario’s renewable energy policy regime in the past few years have spawned a highly charged public debate. Much of the controversy focuses on the public payments offered to wind and solar developers, and there has been an accompanying backlash from dissenting neighbours and other critics against the proliferation of turbines and solar panels in rural areas. But that noisy clash obscures a deeper and more dangerous tendency in the province’s approach to new energy projects: an approval framework that sees the public as inherently selfish, prone to irrational opposition and incapable of considering the greater public interest. This policy approach reflects the bureaucracy’s mistrust of the ability of the Ontario public to make wise energy choices.
The belief that individual selfishness prevails over a sense of the common good inhibits good energy policy and is unhealthy for the province’s democracy. It springs from a conviction of the power of NIMBYism. NIMBY, of course, is the catchy acronym coined in the 1980s for the “not in my backyard” phenomenon that expresses individuals’ desire to protect their own turf from new building or development, despite broad societal agreement that the development is necessary. The concept holds that while most citizens might agree on the need for a new road, landfill, prison or wind generator, few want to live next to one. Read article