POLITICS

McGuinty defends closing gas plant while limiting local say on wind turbines

10/31/2012 11:14 EDT | Updated 12/31/2012 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government bowed to public pressure and cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga but at the same time ignored smaller and rural communities which had no power to block large wind turbines, the Opposition charged Wednesday.

Voters in the heavily populated area around Toronto clearly matter more to the Liberals than people in rural Ontario, who had no say about the location of large energy projects in their communities, said Progressive Conservative Jim Wilson.

"I represent a small community and our votes don't hardly count, according to Mr. McGuinty. We don't have equal rights I guess," Wilson said in an interview.

"People in rural and small town Ontario are very, very angry, (and) local councils are angry that they no longer have any say in where these projects are put."

Premier Dalton McGuinty said comparing the cancelled generating stations with giant wind turbines is comparing apples and oranges because the gas plants emit pollution while the wind turbines do not.

The premier said his government's decided to scrap the large gas-fired Oakville generating station, which it announced in 2008, because of tougher rules the Liberals introduced the next year.

"Under the green energy act standards, where we were putting in a 900 megawatt gas plant we couldn't even locate a single, two megawatt wind turbine," said McGuinty.

"So our standards kind of overtook us, and we thought it was appropriate to relocate that gas plant."

However, McGuinty did not offer a similar defence for the Mississauga gas plant, which the Liberal campaign team halted in mid-construction two weeks before voting day in last fall's general election.

The NDP and Tories say taxpayers are stuck with a $1 billion bill for the Liberals' decisions to cancel the two gas plants to save Liberal seats, but the government puts the total cost at $230 million.

"I think he played a very cynical game with the gas plants," said New Democrat Peter Tabuns.

"He put that plant there knowing that demand was dropping in Ontario. He thought he could get away with it, (but) he couldn't, and we're stuck with the bill."

The Liberals imposed a moratorium on offshore wind farms last February after growing opposition to a project planned in Lake Ontario off east-end Toronto.

McGuinty noted Wednesday that the Liberals also changed the rules to give smaller communities more of a say in the location of industrial wind turbines, but not an actual veto.

"If you want to locate some wind turbines and you don't have the support of the local community, then you're going to the back of the line," McGuinty told reporters.

"There's a lot of competition for this in Ontario, and we don't need to hand out these contracts to people who don't have the support of their communities."

The Tories said McGuinty's "back of the line" defence hasn't actually stopped any large wind farms in Ontario.

"Any project that I'm aware of is still steamrolling ahead despite the new window dressing that McGuinty has put on it," said Wilson.

The Liberals have faced a lot of anger from local councils in parts of Ontario for not allowing them to block energy projects in their communities, and some opponents of wind farms claim low-level noise from the giant turbines is making them sick, causing a range of symptoms including nausea and headaches.

The group Wind Concerns Ontario disputes government and industry claims that there are no "direct" health effects from the environmental noise and vibration produced by industrial wind turbines.

"The evidence is mounting that health effects do occur," the group says on its website.

"Wind turbine noise is not being properly measured or monitored by Ontario's ministry of the environment."