Wednesday, May 4, 2011

750 Wind Turbine Complaints Ignored by Liberals

Green energy complaints a thorn in Liberals’ side

Allowing companies to police their own wind turbines is like having a fox look after the henhouse, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The Canadian Press

TORONTO _ With an election just a few months away, concerns over Ontario´s green energy projects are proving to be a thorn in the governing Liberals´ side. The province received about 750 complaints about wind turbines over the past two years. It found that some companies weren´t following the rules, but has issued no fines or orders forcing them to abide by them.

Environment Minister John Wilkinson was quick to downplay the numbers, saying most of them stemmed from a small group of people. About 50 people were behind the complaints, 20 of which were the source of the “majority” of complaints, he said Wednesday. “So that lets my ministry know that for the vast majority of wind turbines, there does not seem to be a problem with neighbours, but in some places there are,” he said. All complaints are taken seriously, Wilkinson said.

But rather than issuing an order that would force companies to comply with the rules, the government brings the complaint to them first, he said. “We put the onus on them to be good neighbours,” he said. “And I´m pleased to report that in the vast majority of cases, those companies are good neighbours and take action to ensure that they´re in compliance with the law, but also that they´re being good neighbours.” So long as they make the changes _ which can range from changing the pitch of the blades to reducing operations during the evening _ there´s no need to penalize them with fines, he added.

Wind projects in Ontario are forbidden from exceeding the 40-decibel limit, in line with World Health Organization standards, said a spokesman for Wilkinson. The province just completed a “proactive inspection” of the 15 largest projects to ensure they are complying with noise limits. All new projects must also adhere to new provincial rules requiring industrial wind turbines to be built at least 550 metres away from homes, Wilkinson said.

But opposition parties say there´s not much point in having rules regulating Ontario´s 800 wind turbines if they´re not enforced. Residents across the province believe wind turbines are having an impact on their health, but it appears the government doesn´t even have a proper mechanism to deal with their complaints, said Progressive Conservative energy critic John Yakabuski. “It would seem to me that they are basically brushing it off as something minor,” he said.

“When someone´s health and lives are the issue, and the quality of life is the issue, I don´t think the minister should dismiss it quite so rapidly.”

The Conservatives, who hope to topple the Liberals in the Oct. 6 election, have promised to restore municipal oversight of wind farms and place a moratorium on all projects until an independent study of their health and environmental impacts is completed.

Allowing companies to police their own wind turbines is like having a fox look after the henhouse, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “By just leaving it up to the companies, you´re basically sending the message that we´re not really serious about having any regulation and _ wink wink, nudge nudge _ just go ahead and do whatever you want,” she said. “That´s not what people expect from their government.”

Green energy projects were a key part of the Liberal plan to dig Ontario out of the economic downturn and jobs. But the government has also acknowledged that it will hike electricity costs even further.
It admitted last fall that green energy programs will be responsible for more than half of the expected 46 per cent increase in electricity rates over the next five years.

Both the Tories and NDP have seized on soaring hydro bills as a way to hammer the Liberals in the lead-up to the fall election. Other groups have also criticized the government for the lucrative deals it´s signed with renewable energy producers. Ratepayers end up paying wind power producers even if the power that´s generated isn´t used, said Wind Concerns Ontario.

Ontario shelled out $4.1 million last weekend to Quebec and neighbouring U.S. states to take the province´s surplus electricity, the group said. And wind was a big component of those exports. The average sale price of those exports on April 30 was $17.50. The next day, the province was paying Quebec and U.S. states an average price of $9.93 per megawatt to unload its excess power.
Yet wind developers get $135 per megawatt whether it´s used in the province or not, said Wind Concerns Ontario president John Laforet.

“If those industrial turbines had produced no wind during those same 48 hours, Ontario ratepayers would have saved $4.2 million instead of having to subsidize the wind developers,” he said in a statement.