Seven years after Ontario’s multi-billion-dollar, headlong plunge into wind energy, residents of the province are deeply divided on the project, a new Mainstreet/Postmedia poll has found.
The survey of 2,537 Ontarians, released Wednesday, found an even split on wind power, with 43 per cent of respondents having a positive opinion about it and 43 per cent a negative view.
But there was a big difference in the two opinion camps.
“The people who don’t like wind power right now really, really don’t like wind power, and the people who do like wind power are only somewhat okay with it,” said David Valentin, executive vice president of Mainstreet Research.
Out of those with a negative view, 28 per cent had a “very negative” opinion and another 15 per cent had a “somewhat negative opinion.”
For those with a favourable opinion, 18 per cent were “very positive” and 25 per cent “somewhat positive.”
Valentin said rising electricity bills are part of the reason for the weak support, but mishandling of contracts and reports of disputes involving wind energy developers and the Liberal government are also having an impact.
More than 60 per cent of respondents believed wind power has contributed to higher power bills and 59 per cent expect the charges will keep increasing over the next 12 months.
Other findings of the poll, conducted May 18, included differences in opinions based on age, gender and geography.
Younger people tended to be more supportive of wind energy than older Ontarians, and women were more favourable to it than men.
“There is a generational gap. The older you are, the less likely you are to be responsive to wind power right now,” Valentin said.
That’s potentially bad news for the Liberals, because it’s older people who tend to vote, he said.
The good news for the government is that wind energy has its highest support in vote-rich Toronto, where there’s a single industrial wind turbine. Torontonians show their attitude with people putting signs on their lawns to boast their electricity is supplied by Bullfrog Power, a green energy provider, he said.
“For a lot of people in Toronto, wind power fits their values,” Valentin said.
But the poll also suggests political trouble ahead with the potential for wind energy to be a greater albatross for the Liberals, he said.
“It is bad news if it continues along this trend. Wind energy is supposed to be a net positive for the Liberals, it is supposed to be about the fact they created a whole new green energy sector, shut down the coal plants, but it hasn’t turned out that way.”
Instead, people are reminded of the higher costs every month when they get their power bill.
“There is the potential for this to really rear its head during a general election,” Valentin said. “It is good news for them in Toronto, but it is bad news for them everywhere else.”
Opposition to wind farms
In Southwestern Ontario, home to the largest wind farms and more of the highrise-sized turbines than anywhere else in the province, rural divisions over wind energy have run high, including some communities declaring themselves “unwilling hosts” for the mega-projects.
A particular irritation to many communities is that the Liberal government took away local planning control over where wind turbines can be built.
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of groups opposed to wind energy, said attitudes have shifted more against utility-scale wind power as people learn about the impact on home electricity bills, Ontario’s business competitiveness and wildlife.
“There is also a better understanding of the fact that, because wind power is intermittent and needs backup by natural gas, it isn’t really getting us off fossil-fuel power generation, and it certainly doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What people are realizing is that wind power is high-impact for very little benefit.”
Brandy Giannetta, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, pointed to a recent poll by Ekos Research Associates that indicated 81 per cent of Ontarians want more renewable energy.
“Canada, by signing the Paris Agreement, committed to keep global temperature rise well below 2C, and Ontario has ambitious 2020 and 2030 greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets that require increasing the production of clean electricity like that provided by wind energy.”
About the poll
Mainstreet Research surveyed a random sample of 2,537 Ontarians by phone May 18.
Results of the survey are considered accurate to within 1.95 per cent, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20