Ontario’s Rural vs. Rural Green Energy Divide

Drawing on the obvious geographic dispersion of electoral seats, much of the commentary on Ontario’s election has focused on the apparent rural vs. urban divide. There is no doubt that this divide is real nor is there doubt that a key difference is rural Ontario’s antipathy to the McGuinty government’s pursuit of its green energy social and economic agenda. While the rural vs. urban divide is politically significant, the green energy divide within rural communities may have significance beyond politics and into the realm of social cohesion.

Wind power is extremely controversial in most, perhaps all, rural communities where significant wind development is happening. For example, the townships of Norwich and East Zorra-Tavistock in Oxford County both recently defied provincial government policy by seeking a wind energy moratorium.

A key driver for rural discontent is the serious downdraft wind development imposes on the value of nearby residential and recreational properties. With increasing frequency, rural residential dwellers are being driven out of their homes by wind power developments — a grave indicator of concerns well beyond property values.

Farmers with large land holdings in regions favoured by wind developers, on the other hand, can benefit financially, particularly in the short term, from wind development by leasing their land for turbines, transformers and other infrastructure. Some of those farm operators, would be happier to have fewer neighbours, particularly those who complain about nuisances from industrial ag operations. For them, wind developments are a potential win-win — more income, fewer pesky neighbours.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs has been a major funding source for lobbyists supporting the Green Energy Act.

Farmers are a minority in rural areas. The results of Ontario’s recent election leave those farmers favouring wind development politically outgunned by their neighbours.

A new level of tension between the direction of agriculture and the aspirations of non-farming rural citizens may be developing.

An election for the next president of the politically powerful Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will be conducted on November 21st. Don McCabe, currently one of the vice presidents of the OFA, is a candidate.

Earlier this week, the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association awarded its Rural Community Power Leader Award to McCabe. The award recognizes McCabe for the key management role he has played in the Ontario Green Energy Act Alliance, the spearhead of the campaign that lobbied for the creation of the Green Energy Act. The Green Energy Act Alliance is now actively campaigning to bolster the Act against its critics and McCabe continues to play a leadership role.

The upcoming OFA election may provide some indication of how Ontario’s rural vs. rural green energy divide will develop.


update: November 23, Mark Wales, a vegetable producer from near Aylmer, Ont., about 35 km southeast of London, was chosen Monday in Toronto as the OFA’s new president. Wales beat Don McCabe by one vote on the second ballot. McCabe was not initially running for VP, but registered for the vote after his loss for president and retained his position as VP.


  1. Interesting commentary Tom. I believe the OFA made a strategic error by joining the GEA alliance which may permanently reduce the political influence of the OFA on the political arena. As you note farmers even in the most rural of ridings are now a minority. This is due to a cheap food policy over the last 50 years which has encouraged larger farms and fewer farmers. To elect MPP’s in rural ridings that are OFA friendly, a coalition of farmers and nonfarmers is now nessecary. In the past this was a relatively easy task, most nonfarm residents are relatives or close friends of farmers, understand agriculture issues and have common cause with farmer concerns. However the Green Energy Act’s industrial wind turbine policy has blown this coalition apart. Farmers, even families are badly split on this issue while the non farm residents are shocked and angry at a governmnet that has taken away local decision making and given it to faceless bureaucrats from Toronto. In this election the OFA’s support of the the GEA meant it supported Liberal candidates by default. With the farmer/nonfarmer coalition gone almost every Liberal candidate in Southern Ontario lost. What does this mean for the OFA? Well for one no political party can rely too heavily on OFA support to win rural ridings anymore. This means that the nessecary and valuable agriculture advice that the OFA can give may no longer be heeded by Toronto decision makers and bureaucrats. This bodes badly for the future of agriculture in Ontario. In the upcoming election the OFA membership will have to carefuly decide if the benefits of the GEA outweigh the rural division and loss of political influence that accompany it.

  2. Another reason for the divide is Hydro One. Whereas most Ontarians are served by a local utility that is typically community-owned, rural residents tend to be served by Hydro One wearing two hats as a transmission and as a distribution company. Hydro One customers pay a great deal more for electricity. Hydro One charges them more for delivery than for the electricity itself. So when a wind turbine comes in, neighbours get the disadvantages of being nearby, but don’t get the benefits from it, not even indirectly through community controlled utilities. What would be fairer is if the various long-distance transmission costs were not levied on the electricity that is produced next door, especially for embedded generation on the low-voltage line where there is clearly little cost to deliver it. Even at 13.5 cents (most wind to date is actually at 8-9 cents under RES/RESOP) this is still a lower net price than rural residents are being charged. It’s only fair.

  3. You forgot to mention that Don McCabe was one of the original Green Energy Act Alliance members, the driving force behind its creation and the ultimate cause of this divisive rural/urban divide. Another one on that committee that got an award was Mike Brigham of TREC who put up that wonderfull wind turbine at Exhibition Place which was partially acquired by Toronto Hydro. There are only a few members of that original GEAA group missing one of OSEA’s awards now!

  4. Martin you raise an interesting point with those delivery fees, I live within 10km of the Bruce Nuclear facility and have 5 Industrial Wind Turbines from the Cruickshank Project behind our Farm. Our old farm house produces big Hydro One power bills will have to give this further consideration.
    The rural divide is sad to see in our community, those for the wind turbines are often absentee land owners (70% in the case of the Enbridge Project)and are out numbered by those that do not what to live beside them, there are real fears that even if you are lucky enough to escape the potential negative health effects that due to the stigma these projects generate property devaluation is guaranteed.
    Tom was it ever a real possibility for Ontario to sign long term, low priced deals with Hydro Quebec for hydro electric
    power ?
    It appears to be a more affordable than subsidizing Wind Turbine’s and backing them up with new Gas plants at half a million per 2.5 MW Turbine!
    Roughly a 2.5 MW Wind Turbine x 24 hr x 365 days x .30 capacity factor x $145 per
    MWh = $952,650 per year,
    Wind gets 134 a MWh for new contracts plus $10 a MWh federal eco action grant.You can sub in a slightly lower capacity factor but 30% is often quoted.
    Going price for power is about $40 a MWh, so value is 2.5 MW x 24 hr x 365 days x .3 x $40 = $265,000
    Wind produces best when power prices are lowest, so the cost of the replacment may even be lower than this. What mad scientist dreamed up this scheme ? A gas lobbyist is my guess.

    • Imports are only one of Ontario’s lower cost options.

      Vermont imports most of their power from Quebec. Vermont has the lowest average cost of power in New England. Power costs in Vermont are also lower than the Ontario and New York averages.

      Ontario has lower cost options within the province. In the period 2005-6, Ontario procured wind power using competitive processes. Power from less advanced turbines cost in the range of 8 to 9 cents/kWh, producers were only paid for actual production not deemed production as under the FIT, and producers had to cover a larger share of their connection costs than they do under FIT. I point this out not to advocate for more wind power but to highlight the irresponsibility of the FIT program.

      The cost of power from a new gas CCGT using current gas costs would be less than 7 cents/kWh.

      As for who cooked up the insane policies Ontario is now ruining its power system with, I put more blame on the Ontario Federation of Agriculture than on the gas utilities. Check on the governance of the Green Energy Act Alliance http://www.greenenergyact.ca/.

  5. yes. the FIT incentives have been overly generous for wind and photo solar. When government cut the .80 cents, the cost of installed solar panels dropped by $25,000 cuz fewer were signing up, an example of how subisdies distort the marketplace and ratepayers are overpaying for installed capacity.

    comparing costs of energy mix options is tricky. Costs get quoted but can varry depending how generation can be intergrated into power-mix. Experience is wind costs go up as share of generation goes up.

    Does Ontario need to install more generation at this time? If yes, is it cuz they put us behind the 8 ball by not pusuing other options like hydro imports sooner? What is cost of integrating X% wind into Ontario system? Idaho did a study and released a report on same. The OPA feeds us crap and keeps us in the dark. All we get are sound bites from McGuinty in MSM.

    That said the levelized cost of nuclear is > 4 cent/kw-h market price ie. closer to 10…sometimes more somtimes less depending on how numbers crunched. What is number for $36 billion nuke new build?

    I’ve moved beyond counting cents when governments are insolvent and have to inflate their way out of this mess wiping out peoples savings. They’ll charge industry whatever it takes to keep a plant open. Only retail consumers take the full hit of LEL and cost of subsidies. If you have a COLA and indexed pension good for you. It not it sure sucks.

  6. The industrial wind turbine debate is not farmers against non farming rural residents. Many of us opposed to IWTs are farmers. The reason I am anti industrial wind is because of the long term damage being done to our rural environment, and that damage also includes the damage to neighbors, friendships and the fabric of our rural communities. As a rural landowner, I am a steward of our land and have a responsibility to preserve the land for future generations and to farm using ecological, sustainable and community friendly methods. I could not in good conscience allow the erection of an IWT on our farm, nor condone their erection by others, knowing that I would be causing grievous harm to my land and to my neighbors land, by devaluing their property, destroying their enjoyment of their property and causing serious harm to their physical and emotional well being. (This is the reason I don’t spread manure when the wind is blowing towards are neighboring village.) The OFA is not the only accredited general farm organization speaking for farmers. I have been a National Farmers Union member since the formation of the Bruce local, and I believe in a strong healthy sustainable rural community, where the family farm can prosper and grow. I am also opposed to Canada’s cheap food policy, which has put farmers in a position where they have no choice but to sign IWT leases to keep their farms afloat and to fund their retirement. The only real answer is a massive overhaul of our food production system, so farmers receive a fair and equitable return for the food they produce..

  7. Pingback: OFA elects advocate for higher Ontario power rates | Tom Adams Energy - ideas for a smarter grid

Comments are closed.