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Wind energy predictions in Ontario hit new highs

Wind energy has been called the most divisive issue ever in rural Ontario. I’m not sure that’s true, and it’s hard to quantify.

But there’s no doubt wind energy — or more specifically, the turbines that turn wind into energy — has raised hackles with citizens here and elsewhere in rural Canada, and with farm organizations concerned about health and the environment.

As evidence, look at the reaction to wind energy from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

In January, it issued a missive urging the province to stop approving new wind energy projects. The federation says wind energy pits rural Ontarians against each other. Escalating concerns about industrial wind turbines means the province should suspend further development until farm families and rural residents are assured that their interests are adequately protected, according to the federation.

Further, it says it’s worked with government on regulations, cautioned farmer members on the pitfalls of wind leases, and expressed concerns about pricing.

“Many issues have not been addressed, causing tremendous tension among rural residents and community neighbours,” says the federation. “We are hearing very clearly from our members that the wind turbine situation is coming to a head — seriously dividing rural communities and even jeopardizing farm succession planning. The onus is on our provincial government to ensure the interests of rural Ontarians are protected.”

OK, but what about this: the pro-wind energy group, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), said last week Canada is on track for another record year for wind energy development in 2012. Rural Ontario, the home of what the wind-energy cautious federation says is a hotbed of wind-energy consternation, will lead the way for new installations. And, says CanWEA, farmers will continue their pivotal role as land-lease holders in the wind energy system.

Indeed, CanWEA predicts about 1,500 megawatts of new installed capacity will be added in Canada this year. The country is sixth in the world for new installed wind energy capacity, and how has 5,403 megawatts of total wind power, enough to service more than 1.2 million homes.

Robert Hornung, CanWEA president, says Canada (and in particular Ontario) has emerged as a highly competitive destination for wind energy investment globally. He says the wind energy industry represents billions of dollars in new investments across the manufacturing and construction sectors. And as Ontario struggles with economic recovery, failing as recently as Wednesday in the eyes of the financial lending sector as it downgraded the province’s credit standing, any glimmer of good news is welcome.

The wind energy industry is optimistic because it realized a record year in 2011 with about 1,267 megawatts of new wind energy capacity, representing an investment of $3.1 billion and creating 13,000 person-years of employment. CanWEA says Ontario leads Canada in installed wind energy capacity, accounting for 1,969.5 megawatts of wind energy installations. Quebec, with more than 1,000 megawatts, and Alberta with 891 megawatts, follow.

This is big news in rural Ontario. Naysayers can point to a runaway wind energy industry, one that is ignoring their concerns. Farmers who support wind energy, though, can get on board.

Farmers, says CanWEA, “play the most vital role in Ontario’s endeavour to create a cleaner, more modern electricity system.” It points to the wind energy benefits farmers derive through land-lease arrangements — the same ones they’re cautioned against by the agriculture federation — with Ontario landowners alone on track to earn more than $1.1 billion in payments over the 20-year lifespan of wind projects to be contracted between now and 2018.

It’s not all about money, and it’s not to say financial concerns trump social concerns. But a $1-billion contribution in a climate of economic recovery speaks to decision makers. How do anti-wind energy groups counter that?

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.


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