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It was an overcast day for the opening of a 44-turbine wind farm near Port Alma, Ontario, near the shores of Lake Erie Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008. (DAVE CHIDLEY/Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)
It was an overcast day for the opening of a 44-turbine wind farm near Port Alma, Ontario, near the shores of Lake Erie Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008. (DAVE CHIDLEY/Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Test Drive Ontario

An ill wind on Lake Erie Add to ...

SouthPoint is widely accused of doing a poor job of engaging locals in its planning. Mr. Crozier, the MPP for much of the area, draws an unfavourable comparison with Brookfield Renewable Power, the company that's building many of the local land turbines. "We have one proponent who has worked with the community and gone the extra kilometre to communicate with the community," he says. "My view is that SouthPoint has not made any extra effort whatsoever."

Since 2006, when SouthPoint first brought forward its proposal, it appears to have been in a battle with residents. In 2007, when the province imposed a moratorium on offshore projects on the Great Lakes, the residents seemed to be winning. But the moratorium was lifted in 2008 leading up to the introduction of the Green Energy Act - legislation that simultaneously increased the financial incentives for wind development and reduced the barriers.

Aiming to expedite applications, the act greatly reduced the role of municipalities in the process. As a result, much of the case against SouthPoint's proposal - which Essex's communities had invested considerable resources in building - had to be tossed out the window.

By this past spring, residents felt like they were fighting an uphill battle to stop the project from going forward. And there became a growing mistrust of the Green Energy Act in general.

In early June, Mr. Crozier and Mr. Hoy (who represents the other part of the affected area) presented a petition against the project in the Ontario Legislature. They also signed their names to it - an unusual move for a pair of MPPs not known as renegades.

Only three weeks later, the government announced a change that suggested the issue had finally arrived on Mr. McGuinty's radar. But rather than designating Point Pelee a no-go zone, it opted for something much less specific.

WIND AT THEIR BACKS?

On June 25, the government brought forward a proposed new rule for offshore wind development: Any turbines would have to be placed at least five kilometres from the shore.

For the record, officials deny that the rule is aimed at any one project. But within the industry, it's widely believed it was a response to the Point Pelee dispute, and possibly to another controversial proposal for turbines in Lake Ontario off the shores of Scarborough.

Assuming the proposed rule becomes law this fall, most onlookers believe it will kill SouthPoint's proposal. Leamington Mayor John Adams says he's now 80 per cent sure the project won't move forward; rival developers are even surer than that. (SouthPoint is declining interview requests until the province's final decision.)

But the reality is that it's not just the Point Pelee development that's likely to get killed. The Scarborough plan, being advanced by Toronto Hydro, also faces grim prospects - as do most other proposals for the Great Lakes.

Requiring the turbines to be so far from shore makes them much more expensive - that is if they can be built at all, since they require relatively shallow water. Only one or two developers (notably Windstream Wolfe Island Shoals Inc., which plans to harvest offshore wind near Kingston) are said to be confident they can move forward.

Mr. Crozier, among others, would argue that discouraging that kind of development is a good thing, since the Great Lakes are too valuable a resource to trifle with. And while he thinks offshore wind still has "potential," even Energy Minister Brad Duguid says he doesn't think it's "critical to our future energy needs."

But that prompts the question: If offshore wind isn't a priority, why did the government open the door to it in the first place?

The answer, it seems, is that it didn't really give it much thought. Senior Liberals concede they didn't anticipate the amount of interest, or the degree of controversy, it would generate.

So as on other fronts, such as the pricing of solar power, the government occasionally appears to be making up its green-energy strategy as it goes along.

If its one-size-fits-all policies caused problems, the Liberals now appear inclined to solve them with one-size-fits-all solutions.

"We said that if we really want to stand head and shoulders above others in North America in terms of being a welcoming economic environment, we would establish provincial standards," Mr. McGuinty said during that editorial board meeting. "So you know what you get if you want to come here and invest."

Those standards are evidently somewhat flexible. But before they change, they're capable of creating a lot of bad will.

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