The Township of Madawaska Valley Council has slapped a moratorium on the approval of any wind turbine projects until next year’s municipal elections, at which time voters will have a chance to vote on the wind farm issue in a referendum question attached to their ballots.
The move came after an at-times heated debate on the issue at Monday night’s regular council meeting.
It is not clear just how much direct impact council’s measure will have – Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has warned that he will not let local opposition stand in the way of so-called Green Energy projects, and has said that the province will take responsibility for the approval of such proposals – most notably industrial wind turbine farms – away from municipalities. Indeed, some council members acknowledged that they expect the provincial government will overrule them. Nonetheless, council’s move will likely diffuse much of the ongoing public pressure on council over the wind turbine controversy.
At the moment, the sole project proposed for the Township of Madawaska Valley is for the construction of six of the mammoth turbines on the hills north of the Village of Wilno. But
several other projects, many of them much larger, are planned for the Township of South Algonquin to the west, and in communities to the east and southeast of Madawaska Valley as well.
Up until Monday night, Madawaska Valley Council’s stand had been that, while it had listened to many submissions from opponents of the industrial wind project, it had not yet heard from the wind power company. Mayor John Hildebrandt had stated several times that council wanted to hear the other side of the story before taking a position. This was criticized by some opponents, who wanted council to come out solidly against turbines.
The resolution to put the matter on hold pending a referendum in 2010 was tabled by Councillor Sylvie Yantha, who in doing so was resurrecting a similar motion that he had initially proposed in November. Last night’s version was immediately seconded by Councillor Shelley Maika and the other councillors supported it.
“I think we should give the people a choice as to what they want,” Yantha said in making his motion. “I think that … the voters are waiting for answers. Let’s let the voters decide.”
Monday night’s meeting began with two delegations on the wind issue, which has been in the public eye since a firm named SkyPower first proposed to build six turbines near Wilno early in 2008.
Carl Bromwich of Wilno said he was appearing to ask that a public meeting be convened on the issue “to smooth over some of the rough edges” surrounding the dispute. He praised Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski for “leading our fight in the Legislature” against the Liberal government’s Green Energy Act bill, saying he was “doing a hell of a good job.” But it is time that MV council spoke out on the matter, too, Bromwich said.
He urged council to “use the powers you have now to make a statement” against the Green Energy Act and wind turbines.
“Your power is our power and if we lose it, we’re going to be answering to (Energy and Infrastructure Minister) George Smitherman and Dalton McGuinty for the rest of our lives.”
Later, Lou Eyamie of SOS, or Save Our Skyline, the lead organization fighting against the Wilno wind farm proposal, also urged council to take a stand on the wind farm proposal.
“I firmly believe that if you people don’t make your position known … you’re going to be too late,” Eyamie said.
Municipal politicians in the townships of South Algonquin, where several turbines are planned for near the eastern border of Algonquin Provincial Park, and in Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, where no wind projects are currently proposed, have passed moratoriums on any approvals of wind turbines. Those measures, combined with several others approved by municipalities across the province, were followed by the provincial government’s plan to take over the power to set guidelines and approve projects under its Green Energy Act, which is now before the Legislature.
Denise Brotton of Wilno also addressed council. She said she was glad to see that council has taken the initiative “to do something” about the wind farm controversy, but was skeptical of the McGuinty government’s promises that municipalities will receive money from the wind turbines built in their communities.
“I have no faith that they will contribute anything to us,” she said.
She also cited a news release by MPP John Yakabuski that questions Liberal promises that electricity prices will not rise sharply under the Green Energy Act. Smitherman had pegged the increase at one per cent.
In the Feb. 24 release, Yakabuski noted that Smitherman himself put the cost of the bill at $5 billion. Yakabuski suggested that, with 4.2 million electricity consumers in Ontario footing that bill, this would mean each consumer would face an average increase of $1,200 – a 30 per cent increase over three years.
By Douglas Gloin
Barry’s Bay This Week 4 March 2009