Nor’Westers – Opposition isn’t Slowing its Growing

Unified Fight
Neebing and Fort William First Nation are united against Big Thunder Wind Power
Hundreds gathered to fight to preserve the Nor’Westers

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Green energy makes sense. As we move forward in Northwestern Ontario, we are shifting from a region that fifty years ago was a major polluter, to a region that respects the beauty of the bounty of nature we have. That said, what we must also be doing is looking at being really green, not green in the wallet, but honestly beneficial for all of us.

Wednesday night, at the ‘Save the Nor’Westers Rally, there were several things very evident. First, opposition to the Big Thunder Wind Park is not slowing, it is growing. The Neebing Hotel was selling hamburgers at $15 each as a part of the fundraiser. The hotel staff reported that they had sold a record number of burgers. The fundraising goal of the night was about $2,000.

Save the Nor'Westers
A sunny evening with Save the Nor’Westers supporters crowding the deck at the Neebing

There were hundreds of people buying burgers, leaving the $5 from the change in the donation bin.  Fifty dollar bills were being slipped into the donation box.

Second, what has happened, and likely few are seeing it; Horizon has united people, and build a stronger feeling of unity in Neebing and Fort William First Nation. That unity is a powerful, and very deep bond. It is a bond that City Council and Administration should be very aware of.

Third, Fort William First Nation members are for the most part deeply offended at how they have been treated, and how they have been ignored. It is 2013, not 1959, not 1859, and treating First Nations people like they don’t matter is a pathway to disaster.

Unified Fight
Neebing and Fort William First Nation are united against Big Thunder Wind Power

Several people from Fort William First Nation have quietly stated, with the calm assurance that it will come to pass, is that there will NOT be a wind farm on the location currently proposed. The First Nation members I spoke to are not opposed to wind farms, not opposed to green energy, and not looking for a cut of Horizon’s action.

They are saying this is a proposed development that is simply in the wrong place. They are saying that if the company had actually consulted in a spirit of listening, rather than acting like a school yard thug, that the company would have realized that fact and looked elsewhere.

Fourth, no one is explaining the real need for more power capacity in Northwestern Ontario. Thunder Bay used to have six other pulp and paper mills and several saw mills all running and consuming large amounts of electricity. At that time, the grain shipping business was far busier. In 1973, when there were all the pulp mills running at full capacity, and there had been 1,245 ships coming through the Port of Thunder Bay, there was no shortage of electricity.

In 2012, we have one pulp mill in operation, and there were 409 ships that went through the port.  The hydro electric power generating capacity we already have could handle the demand thirty years ago. Nothing has reduced that green energy capacity.

Dalton McGuiny
Former Premier Dalton McGuiny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Overall, the question must be asked why are we producing more energy at a higher price, that will have deep and permanent impact on the Nor’Westers when we don’t need it. Wasting energy isn’t green at all, it is wasteful and expensive. If Ontario ended the huge subsidy that Dalton McGuinty put in place, it is very likely the debate would end. 

Finally, from a purely political standpoint, look at the good people of Neebing who are saying a resounding ‘NO’ to this project. Instead of offering massive support, these good people have been tagged as “NIMBY“, attacked as being greedy and selfish, and in the case of the members on Fort William First Nation simply ignored.

There are enough voters in Neebing, not to change all the political races at the provincial and municipal level. However there are likely more than enough people who would be willing to work to defeat politicians who don’t listen to their concerns.

In conclusion, overall, in my opinion, rather than an energy project, the project looks like the kind of land deal where at the end of the day there are no local winners. In Thunder Bay, we have dealt with decades of division. It is long past the time for the politics of division.

It could be expected that should this project stumble forward, that there will be a fight against it bigger than the courts or City Hall or Queen’s Park. Thunder Bay could well become the place called “The Canadian Wounded Knee”.

The people in Neebing and on Fort William First Nation have repeatedly stated that they are not opposed to wind farms. They have expressed a solid opposition to the location of this project, and that opposition isn’t fading. 

It is my view that many of the home owners are likely, if the project goes through to sue the City of Thunder Bay to recover the value lost on their homes. It may take a while, but the end result would likely be a high cost for the City if in nothing but legal fees. For politicians, the cost would likely be higher, many of those who have supported the company and the project rather than the people will be out of political office.

There are real and positive solutions. All it would take is an openness and willingness on the part of Big Thunder Wind Power to engage and consult.

If the company is in the business of making money, rather than paying lawyers, or fighting real fights, then there likely is a little time left for listening and building a relationship of respect with the people. 

Lets hope that happens. 

That of course is just my opinion, as always, your mileage may vary.

James Murray

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