Local governments will have more say over wind and solar energy projects, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday after a handful of politicians walked out on his speech to the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association.
"I cannot help but observe, as you did, that some folks left when I took my position here at the podium," McGuinty told the audience of local politicians from across the province.
"I know it's about clean energy. I support clean energy, I support the tens of thousands of jobs that it creates. I knew this could happen, but I came anyways."
'If local municipalities can have a say over where a hot dog cart or a chip truck is going to go in their downtown, of course they should have a say about industrial wind farm projects that can be 25 km in length.' —Tim Hudak, Opposition leader
Opposition to giant wind turbines cost the Liberals some seats in rural Ontario in last fall's election, in which they were reduced to a minority government. Local politicians were particularly upset at the fact they don't get a say in where green energy projects are built.
After his speech, McGuinty told reporters the province will "do a better job in terms of incorporating the local perspective on this" when it completes a review of its feed-in-tariff program for green energy projects by the end of March.
"We will be adopting some of the recommendations put forward by rural Ontario so we can achieve a better balance," he said.
"I'm not going to speak to the specifics, but I can say we have listened very carefully to those concerns and incorporated those into the changes that we are making."
McGuinty stopped short of saying local municipalities would be given veto power to block any new wind farms or solar projects.
The Progressive Conservatives said local governments should "absolutely" have a say over where green energy projects are located.
"If local municipalities can have a say over where a hot dog cart or a chip truck is going to go in their downtown, of course they should have a say about industrial wind farm projects that can be 25 kilometres in length," said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"I would end that program. We can't afford the big subsidies for wind and solar that are driving up the hydro bills, and there should be local decision making."
NDP slams 'big failure'
The New Democrats said it was a big mistake for the Liberals to cut local voices out of the decisions about where to build green energy projects.
"There's no doubt the public felt very cut out of the process in the entire implementation of the Green Energy Act, and that's what we saw as the big failure of the government," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"To go back now and say they made a mistake initially and cut people's voices out, I think would be a good admission."
Energy Minister Chris Bentley said the high prices paid for wind and solar power would be lowered when the feed-in-tariff program review is completed. But he too was vague about just what kind of a say local politicians will be given in future wind and solar projects.
"The legislature has said we're not giving everybody the right to set their own rules, but we are taking a look at the approach," said Bentley.
"We are looking for ways to make sure that voices which may not feel they have been heard in the way that they would like to be heard, can be heard in a stronger and better way in the future."