Wind Farm Vote Likely a “Game Changer” in Civic Campaign

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THUNDER BAY – There are two wind farm projects ongoing in the region. One is the Horizon Wind Inc. project which is seeking City Council approval on Tuesday and then ratification of the vote on October 18th. The other is a wind farm project in Shuniah Township.

You may not have heard much about the Shuniah Wind Farm project, as compared to the Horizon Wind Inc. project. Perhaps part of the reason is simple, the Shuniah Wind Farm is not slated to go atop one of Thunder Bay’s most striking geographic features.

The Shuniah Wind Farm is not near enough to homes to upset residents, and it is thereby sailing through the process.

However, in Thunder Bay, while City Council first supported the Horizon project, it is starting to look like the more information that comes out is generating serious questions that need and deserve answers.

That process has several Councillors starting to shift their vote on the project.

In Neebing ward, Lynda Rydholm is now set to vote against the project. Andrew Foulds in Current River is reportedly re-considering his position. Councillor at Large Aldo Ruberto is studying the issue before Tuesday’s meeting to determine what issues may have been missed.

Part of the problem is that Premier Dalton McGuinty has put “Green Energy” atop the Liberal agenda for Ontario. The Ontario Government is subsidizing solar and wind energy projects, as well as fast-tracking their implementation.

The province is set to enact rules that will further reduce the ability of local residents to have a say in the location of wind farms. It is not known if there is any grandfathering in the proposals set to come impacting past wind farm developments.

What has yet to be answered by Administration which is in full support of the project are several questions:

  1. What happens when the wind turbines will need to be de-commissioned in twenty to thirty years?
  2. What net benefit to the people of Thunder Bay will come from the project? How many long-term jobs will be created.
  3. What impact on birds, on the natural landscape and on the homes in Neebing Ward can be expected?
  4. Why this specific location? Are there not less sensitive areas where the Wind Farm could go.

The members of the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee have been tagged first as “Nimby’s” and then as “Cavers”. However increasingly from this group are coming valid questions that don’t seem to be getting answered.

Part of the NMEPC’s complaints are on the openness of Horizon’s public meetings. The group has accused the company of using intimidation at their meetings, and of not being willing to listen to concerns.

As a civic election issue, the wind farm has the ability, with the ratification vote coming on the 18th of October, the last meeting of this council before the election.

City Council is in a bind in several ways, first if they vote down the project, it is likely that Horizon Wind Inc. would seek legal recourse. Second, if they vote for the project, it is possible that Neebing residents would also seek legal recourse as well.

Finally, as an election issue, the timing puts the pressure on Councillors and the Mayor as people are, in the final two weeks of the campaign really starting to pay attention.

Tuesday night is a special Council Meeting on this issue, it will follow next Monday with a ratification vote on the last meeting before the civic election. If there is a defining moment to campaign 2010, it may come on Tuesday night.

Council is really voting on who matters most, Horizon Wind Farm or the people of the city. Putting wind turbines atop the Nor’Westers is a decision that will fundamentally change the appearance of this Thunder Bay icon.

For Horizon Wind, perhaps in the rush to get their project going, the company has put aside their ability to understand local concerns, and how important those concerns are to the people in the area near where they are going to want to be for the next twenty to forty years.

There is likely plenty of middle ground here for Council, Horizon, and residents to all come together in a deal that will work for everyone.

The test of leadership Tuesday night will be to see how Council votes, and what directions are taken.

Personally, I think the Wind Farm vote will be the game changer moment in Campaign 2010.

James Murray

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