Blowing in the Wind

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

Driving though North Stormont in recent months, usually on my way from Russell to Finch, I couldn’t help whispering to myself: “What a waste!”

The feeling was generated by skeletal Nation Rise Wind Farm turbines dotting the landscape, stationary and forlorn, not because there was no wind, but because they’d been shut down by ministerial decree on feeble, previously rejected grounds they could be harmful to bat colonies.

When tools were dropped late last year, turbines were trapped in various stages of completion, some fully erected, some with towers part way up; at Port of Johnstown, blades and tower sections remained stockpiled where they had arrived by freighter, possibly never to be flat-bedded to the Nation Rise site.

It was a reminder of broken relationships, of the divisiveness this project has left in its wake.

Sponsored by EDP Renewables Canada Ltd, Nation Rise was the last Liberal government Green Energy wind project to squeak by after Doug Ford took office. He cancelled others in the works but Nation Rise was too far along to legally pull the plug. I had a feeling that wouldn’t be the end of it.

It wasn’t! Almost as soon as he was named to the portfolio, Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, put the brakes of Nation Rise, revoking its Renewable Energy Approval based on possible bat harm. My jaw dropped; so did the collective jaws of pleased opponents and stunned EDP Renewables officers. To all concerned, this excuse seemed very flimsy.

Ford and Yurek paid an embarrassing price for their intervention! Claiming it to be a rare case where a ministerial decision “is not reasonable and does not deserve deference,” the Ontario Superior Court of Justice earlier this month reinstated EDP’s approval for the 29-turbine wind farm.

A partially completed turbine in North Stormont, as it appeared on Nov. 17, 2019, a couple of weeks before the Nation Rise project came to a standstill as a result of the intervention of Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Yurek’s decision came despite the fact the Environmental Review Tribunal had cleared the project after considering and rejecting possible impacts on bats. The Court ruled that Yurek’s stand didn’t meet requirements of “transparency, justification and intelligibility” as he failed to adequately explain the decision.

In a statement that stopped just short of gloating, Miguel Prado, EDP CEO for North America, said the company is eager to recommence erection of Nation Rise. Prado said his company will get back to bringing much-needed jobs and investment to its host community: “This delay has resulted in unnecessary expenditures at a time when governments and businesses should be focused on reducing costs and restarting the economy.”

He said the wind farm has already created 230 local construction jobs and will generate 10 full-time operating positions as well as many indirect jobs. The project is expected to invest $45 million in the local economy over 30 years through landowner lease payments, a community benefit fund, charitable contributions and municipal taxes.

I started out as an opponent to the EDP project for very solid reasons: North Stormont was an unwilling host; several residents opposed the project on the usual human health and environmental grounds; and the relative piddly amount of electricity to be produced would add little to the grid at a grotesquely large amount of taxpayer cash.

But I’m also an opponent of government waste, no matter the party in power! To stop this project after it was well underway for largely political reasons, piling up no doubt millions of dollars in legal and compensation fees, would be to compound the original transgression.

When the dust has settled, I’m looking forward to driving through North Stormont when all the towers are up and the blades are slowly, oh so slowly, spinning! Yes, the project will remain a symbol of crass Liberal government overspending … but at least it’ll be a working symbol.

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