The inside story of Ontario’s wind wars

The inside story of Ontario’s wind wars

After he was sworn in, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made a series of announcements about green energy. All of them were negative. One of the few projects he called out by name was the White Pines Wind Project in Milford, Ont. – a project that was cancelled by legislation adopted on July 25.

The plan had been mired in controversy since its inception in 2007. National Observer spoke with more than 30 residents, activists, and workers, chronicling their stake in what is arguably Ontario’s most divisive wind farm debate.

A report by Fatima Syed and Steph Wechsler

A single turbine was standing fully assembled July 10 on a local landowner’s farm in Milford, Ont. It was supposed to be the first of nine turbines to be erected in the small township, more than 200 kilometres east of Toronto. At 100 metres tall, the turbine cast a shadow on landscientists proclaimed was a critical nesting place for an endangered turtle species.

Robert Quaiff, mayor of Prince Edward County, Ont. and Steve Ferguson, a city councillor from one of the small townships in the county, were at the local town hall discussing the turbine’s place on the horizon, a project in the making for a decade that was inching closer to completion.

Twenty minutes into their conversation, their phones started buzzing with news.

Following a provincial election campaign in which Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives had promised that Ontario would soon be “open for business,” the government was announcing that it was actually going to shut down a multimillion dollar private business investment in their backyard — the White Pines Wind Project.

Todd Smith, elected as the local member of the legislature and appointed by Ford to be minister of government and consumer services, was the one who broke the news.

Smith’s colleague, Greg Rickford, the minister of energy, mines, northern development and Indigenous affairs was tabling legislation to terminate the Milford project.

The news took pockets of the county by storm.

“Have you heard this?” Coun. Ferguson of South Marysburgh asked Quaiff, shocked by the text.

“What, it’s done?” the mayor responded, shocked.

The surprise, synchronized text messages signalled the end of a decades-old maelstrom surrounding the wind farm development along Milford’s picturesque South Shore. 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.

The windmill controversy had been cinematic at times, replete with protests, eggs thrown and fiery insult exchanges during town halldebates 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.

Cheryl Anderson, a county resident and lauded field naturalist, seen at a July 10 protest against the wind farm. Photo by Michael Lindon

Meanwhile, that same day, Ian Macrae, president of wpd Canada — the German company that was building the wind farm — heard news of the impending cancellation from a reporter, who asked for comment over the phone. The company’s board of directors had been scrambling to understand how their contract with Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) could be expropriated by a government, and sought advice from lawyers in Europe and Canada.

“Every project in Ontario has some resistance,” Macrae told National Observer in an interview, “but this one, especially, it was long, it was complicated and expensive.”