LONDON, Ont. - In a major blow to Dalton McGuinty government’s controversial green energy plan, the largest farm lobby group in Ontario has pulled the plug on its support for wind turbines.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which represents 37,000 farm families, issued a call Friday for the province to suspend wind turbine development.
OFA President Mark Wales said industrial wind turbines have split rural communities, pitting neighbour against neighbour.
“The situation is untenable,” Wales said. “It is taking away from what farmers do best and that is grow food and create jobs.
“We need to slow this down and put some calm out there and then government needs to resolve the issues.”
Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley expressed dismay at the OFA stand, coming one month after the farm organization issued a news release backing green energy.
“I’m surprised and a little bit disappointed,” Bentley said.
“Thousands of farmers are already participating in green energy projects, including wind, and many more are looking to participate.”
Bentley said the province remains committed to green energy and is looking to strengthen it. More than 3,000 individuals and groups have submitted comments to the government, including many from the farming community, he said.
“We are taking a look at those and we are determined to get clean, renewable energy into the province of Ontario and secure the jobs that help Ontario serve the world with green energy,” Bentley said.
With hundreds of the giant turbines under construction, the Liberal government has come under intense criticism from rural groups for taking planning control away from rural municipalities.
Several Liberal MPPs, including former agriculture minister Carol Mitchell of Huron-Bruce, were defeated in rural ridings where turbines were being installed, helping to deprive the Liberals of a third straight majority government in last May’s election. The environment minister, John Wilkinson, was also defeated.
In its position released Friday, the OFA listed issues its says need to be resolved before further wind turbine development is allowed. Among them were planning control of the projects needs to be returned to municipalities, the province must address health and nuisance complaints of rural residents, and a cap on the price paid for renewable energy at the peak price that will be paid for imports six years in the future.
Wales said technical solutions also need to be found before further development, such as how to store energy from wind turbines when it’s produced but isn’t needed.
Selling such energy to other jurisdictions at a loss just isn’t good economics, he said.
Jane Wilson, president of the anti-wind turbine coalition Wind Concerns Ontario, called the OFA move surprising and gratifying.
Wilson said the OFA, with its clout, will provide a boost to the coalition’s campaign.
“A lot of rural communities are being just ripped apart by this issue,” said Wilson, adding it indicates the new OFA executive is listening to its farm members.
But Jutta Splettstoesser, a Kincardine-area farmer and president of Friends of Wind Ontario, said she was shocked to read the OFA position.
“It was full of unfactual statements ... I’m so disappointed,” she said.