Ontario's largest farm organization has called for a moratorium on wind power development in the province, saying there are too many unanswered questions about its value, and that the debate over turbines is polarizing rural communities.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which represents more than 38,000 farmers in the province, said Friday that no more wind turbines should be built until a number of issues are dealt with.
First, some of the planning for wind farms should be returned to municipalities, the OFA said. Under the province's Green Energy Act, municipalities have very little say in the decisions where turbines will be built.
Health and noise complaints also need to be addressed, the OFA said, and more study has to be done to ensure that the current minimum 550 metre "setback" from houses is sufficient.
There needs to be more work done to allow the electricity generated from turbines to be stored, the federation said, because the power is currently often sold at a loss on export markets when it is not being generated at times of peak usage.
The controversy over new wind developments is pitting neighbours against each other, the OFA said in its statement, and it "currently preoccupies the rural agenda."
OFA president Mark Wales said "we are hearing very clearly from our members that the wind turbines situation is coming to a head – seriously dividing rural communities and even jeopardizing farm succession planning."
Ontario has installed about 2,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, by far the most of any Canadian province. Development has been accelerated by the Green Energy Act, under which the province pays premium rates for electricity produced by renewable power projects.
The province has stopped any offshore wind development in the Great Lakes while it studies the technology and its effects further, but many new projects are under way on land.
Wind farm development was a key issue in the recent provincial election, and the opposition parties made gains in rural riding partly because of the widespread opposition to further wind development.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association, which represents wind developers, said it is "extremely disappointed" in the OFA's move. Many of OFA's concerns are already being reviewed and examined by the province, it said.
The OFA "is proposing to put thousands of jobs at risk in Ontario and limit the ability of farmers to participate in Ontario's clean energy economy," said CanWea president Robert Hornung. "We will be seeking a meeting with the OFA to better understand their point of view and discuss their concerns."
Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley said in an interview Friday that he recognizes there has been "a lot of renewable energy development in Ontario" and this has "created some challenges." But he said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the OFA position because many farmers are anxious to participate in wind development.
Mr. Bentley said the province is in the midst of a review of the feed-in-tariff program, which determines the rules and prices paid for renewable power, and some of the OFA concerns may be dealt with there. In particular, he said, he hopes to "broaden community input and maybe develop further community participation" for renewable projects. The review will be completed in the next few months.