Western University study finds that Ontario’s wind farm rollout could likely have been smoother
Wind farms don’t have to be a flashpoint for community resentment if the benefits are spread around.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by two Western University geography professors who compared the relatively smooth rollout of wind farms in Nova Scotia with the often-hostile reception in rural Ontario.
Chad Walker and Jamie Baxter interviewed and surveyed residents in nearly a dozen communities as part of the study.
They found support for wind farms in Nova Scotia was three times higher than Ontario because provincial rules require more community control and, in some cases, majority ownership of a wind farm project.
In Ontario, there’s a perception the corporate owners of wind farms and the owners of the property where they’re located are the only winners, Walker said.
“People in the area don’t feel like they are benefiting … It’s not the technology, it’s the way it is introduced.”
Nova Scotia set up a program called COMFIT (Community Feed-in-Tariff ) that lived up to its name.
“Not only do they encourage community involvement, they require it. They would not be approved unless the local community owned 51 per cent,” Walker said.
By contrast, almost all Ontario wind projects are owned by large corporations, he said.
The pushback to wind farms in Ontario has been unusual, especially compared to continental Europe that had a big head start in wind energy, Walker said.
“Most places in the world do not see this high level of opposition to these developments.”
As the Ontario government pushed ahead with wind farms in partnership with private companies, local municipalities were left almost powerless to control the projects.
Politicians and residents of Dutton-Dunwich in Elgin County were stunned last year when the Ontario government awarded a contract to a Chicago-based company to build dozens of industrial turbines there.
The municipality had declared itself an unwilling host to wind farms after 84 per cent of residents opposed wind turbines in a referendum.
The Western study included surveys of residents in three communities in Ontario – AdelaideMetcalfe west of London, Norwich Township in Oxford County and Wainfleet in Niagara Region.
In Nova Scotia, the study covered seven communities with wind farms.
Walker cautioned that the Western study only studied public acceptance of wind farms, not their economics.
The Nova Scotia government cancelled the COMFIT program, not because of opposition to wind farms but because of concerns it would drive up electricity rates.
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of groups opposed to wind farm development, said the Western study shows local support of a wind farm should be required before any project is approved.
“Municipalities should be able to say no, which is not allowed by the province. The Green Energy Act was written for the wind power industry and not the people of Ontario,” she said.
Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said the Western study pointed out the need for better community consultation. Ontario wind farms have met more opposition than other provinces because of the rapid development and the greater population density, he said.
But Hornung said the industry is trying to do a better job.
“Requirements for community engagement and participation are getting more stringent. It’s hard for a project to be successful if it does not have broad community support.”
Wind energy companies are trying to broaden community benefits of wind farms by compensating owners of neighbouring farms and creating community funds.