After Ontario’s new provincial government summarily cancelled the White Pines Wind Project in Prince Edward County, just weeks before it completed construction, National Observer interviewed more than 30 local residents, activists, and workers and produced an in-depth feature report on how the project unfolded, and how it became “Ontario’s most divisive” wind farm.
“For the 1,695 residents of Milford, the legislation that killed a nine-turbine wind farm in its backyard, like its inception, remains a controversial decision,” Observer reports. “While those who opposed the project celebrated news of what they believe is a more efficient era of environment policy, those who supported it say the Ford government sent a disturbing message to the rest of the county, and the world: Ontario no longer cares about the environment.”
Had it been completed, “White Pines could have produced 52 million kilowatts an hour of clean energy annually—enough electricity to power just over 3,000 homes,” Observer adds, citing project developer wpd Canada.
The controversy surrounding the wind farm dated back to 2007. It ended when local MPP Todd Smith, newly appointed as Doug Ford’s minister of government and consumer services, announced legislation to cancel the project. That bill passed the legislature at Queen’s Park July 25.
“Those in favour of the mill said it was a much-needed investment in the county’s sustainable future, while a determined opposition said it would infringe on the municipality’s independence as well as on the unique characteristics of its natural surroundings,” Observer reports.
“The windmill controversy had been cinematic at times, replete with protests, eggs thrown, and fiery insult exchanges during town hall debates over energy, heritage, and the preservation of tiny critters. Over the years, the ideological battle pitted neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend in the southern township of Prince Edward County.”
When the cancellation was announced, the reaction mirrored the split in the community. Renowned field naturalist Cheryl Anderson cried with joy. Local residents Angela Lammes and Jennifer Ackerman expressed the exact equal and opposite view.
“First they create and then they destroy,” Lammes told Observer. “I’m going to cry if the three windmills I see go down.”
“The windmills are the only thing of excitement around here,” Ackerman added. While some project opponents suspected she was after the compensation that wpd Canada paid to rent land for the turbines, she swore that was ridiculous. “They can take my money. I don’t need or want the money,” she said. “I love it. I love the windmills.”
Many of the project’s opponents insisted they supported climate solutions and clean energy—but not at the cost of habitat preservation.
“I am an environmentalist. I do believe in climate change,” said John Hirsch, a board member with the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. “I do believe in green energy, but green energy should only be in the right places, and the very environmentally sensitive South Shore of Prince Edward County is, in many experts’ opinions, the worst possible place to put a wind farm.” Opponents were also deeply miffed at what they saw as the “undemocratic nature” of the province’s 2009 Green Energy Act—at the time, Observer recalls, Premier Dalton McGuinty “said he would honour individual communities’ opposition to participating, but wouldn’t tolerate not-in-my-backyard attitudes on renewable energy projects”.
In the end, community leaders got notice of the decision through a series of text messages, while wpd Canada President Ian Macrae heard about it when a reporter called him for comment. “Every project has its issues, but this one had the best opposition,” he later told Observer. “They were well-funded. They raised $1.5 million for legal funds. They were able to keep it coming.”
After the legislation passed, the same battle lines were very much in place, with Don and Heather Ross of the County Sustainability Group making the case for the project and Anderson standing against it.
“If you say something loud enough, hard enough, long enough, it becomes true because it takes time to learn the other reality,” Don Ross told Observer. “They want it to be paradise,” Heather Ross added. “And for some reason, the turbines are going to spoil that. We don’t get it.”
“We’ve been working at this for 10 years and the people from Toronto still do not seem to get it,” Anderson said. “We’re not against green energy, we just want to protect important habitat and look after biodiversity, and so it’s important that green energy is situated in places where that is not being hurt.”
As for Doug Ford and his cabinet, “we have a government that campaigned on doing what they’re doing. I don’t think they really investigated before they shot their mouths off of what can happen. They’re not aware of the fallout,” said Liam McConnell, a longtime resident who initially thought the county didn’t need the project, before deciding it made no sense to stop it once it was under way.
“They’re like Donald Trump. They just keep yap yap yapping and let the chips fall where they may.”
This is a short summary of a much richer, more detailed feature report. Click through to read every word.