Monday, October 7, 2013

Wind Energy Votes and the Region

A few people have written to me about my position during a recent vote on wind energy at Regional Council.

In July 2012, I was among the majority when Regional Council approved a motion that designated Niagara as the Green Energy Capital of Canada. The positioning makes sense to me because of Niagara’s long history of hydro-electric power generation and of the number of recent green energy businesses and initiatives developing in Niagara.

But, during our June 20, 2013 Council meeting, we considered a motion brought forward by Mayors Jeffs and Joyner:

That the Regional Municipality of Niagara supports Wainfleet and West Lincoln in their request to the Province of Ontario to be deemed an 'unwilling host' for Industrial Wind Turbines.

During the debate, I voted in favour of postponing the vote so that we could receive additional information; when that vote lost (11 in favour, 12 against), I voted in favour of the motion as presented. At the time, it seemed to me that the motion essentially highlighted the “unwilling host” resolutions from West Lincoln and Wainfleet to the Province. Others must have thought the same, because that vote carried 15 to 8.

On August 1, Councillor Katzman gave notice that she wanted Council to “reconsider” the vote on the June 20 motion.

When the issue returned to Regional Council on September 19, we heard four presentations – two in favour, and two opposed. If not expressly stated, I asked each presenter what the motion meant to them.

For those in favour, the motion meant that Regional Council “supports” the efforts of Wainfleet and West Lincoln; for those presenters opposed, the motion gave a signal that Niagara was “closed” for green energy business. These answers clearly show that the motion means different things to different people.

With this type of dichotomy, I felt that we needed to discuss the motion further and, perhaps, clarify the wording.

As a result, I voted to "reconsider" – that is, to consider again – the motion. I hoped that we could support residents concerned about wind turbines while balancing the feedback from the business community. (Because our “rules of debate” don’t allow discussion on the “reconsideration” of a motion, I could not publicly state my reasoning.)

Unfortunately, the “reconsideration” motion (which required a two-thirds majority vote) lost with 17 in favour and 11 opposed.

The story is not yet over.  Regional Council will consider Councillor Zimmerman’s motion to reconfirm our “support for development and investment in the green energy sector” during our October 10 meeting.