‘You guys did a lousy job,’ Don McCabe, vice president at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told attendees as a panelist during the recently concluded Canadian Wind Energy Association Annual Conference and Exhibition.
Community engagement has been a hot-button issue in the province since the Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009, which ushered in a spate of wind farm developers wanting to build projects in Ontario.
Since that time, McCabe said some rogue developers have come into the province and hastily staked their claim and often underestimated the intelligence of locals. In some cases, he claimed, wind developers often pitted neighbors against each other.
McCabe told a story involving a local resident that learned at a restaurant that he was not receiving the same dollar amount as his neighbors.
‘When [a landowner] goes to the restaurant and [finds] out one neighbor is getting $30,000 and his other neighbor might be getting $20,000 – what do you think the reaction is going to be?’ McCabe asked rhetorically.
Everyone involved should have a piece of the action, he explained, adding that such inequality only fuels the antipathy toward wind energy that is being felt in Ontario.
As the provincial government mulls over the details of its long-term energy plan – which would include siting policy for large-scale wind projects – McCabe suggested the time is right for wind developers to re-evaluate how they do things. ‘Some of your easements are nuts,’ he deadpanned.
Surprisingly, McCabe said the best way for wind developers to enter a community has less to do with money and more to do with simply being a good neighbor.
He explained some developers erroneously believe that making improvements to the town's infrastructure or donating playground equipment is all that is needed to be accepted or welcomed into a community.
‘No one needs playground equipment,’ he said. ‘What they need is respect.’
Additionally, he urged wind developers to simplify contracts to make them easier for landowners to understand. In fact, McCabe offered some free advice to wind developers in the audience:
‘If you can't [explain the lease offer] on the wall of the church basement, you might be in the wrong business.’
While most wind developers have come into communities the right way, the few bad ones have ruined it for everyone. ‘That's reality,’ he said.
McCabe says the Ontario Federation of Agriculture – whose mission ‘enables prosperous and sustainable farms’ – will work alongside wind energy stakeholders toward policy that benefits landowners and developers in Ontario.
‘Farmers are used to dealing with the risk of Mother Nature,’ he stated. ‘But we will not tolerate the risk of poor policy.’