Offshore and onshore wind power supported by most voters, poll suggests

Offshore and onshore wind power supported by most voters, poll suggests

Ontario’s Liberal government may be tilting at windmills, especially ones proposed for the Great Lakes.

That’s according to a Forum Research Inc. survey, provided to QP Briefing, which found 52 per cent of respondents actually supported offshore wind farms. Only 26 per cent opposed wind turbines in the Great Lakes, while 22 per cent were undecided.

There was also a strong show of support for rural wind farms in the poll, with 54 per cent approving. Opposition was still stronger to rural turbines than offshore ones, as 30 per cent said they were against windmills in the hinterland. Another 15 per cent declared they were unsure.

“The majority favour wind farms, onshore or off, which is not what their opponents would have us believe,” said Forum Research president Dr. Lorne Bozinoff in a release. “The public also believes in public investment in new fuel sources, which is also not the current received wisdom. It appears the provincial Liberal government’s Green Energy program has promise, although not in its current form.”

The Forum poll surveyed 1,184 random Ontario voters on Monday, and the findings are considered accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The surprising support for renewable energy comes a little more than a month after a NAFTA trade tribunal ruled the Ontario government had treated Windstream Energy LLC unjustly following the McGuinty government’s decision in 2011 to slap a moratorium on offshore wind power. Windstream, whose investors hail from New York City, was awarded about $28 million in damages and costs. The tribunal also declared the company’s $5.2 billion power-producing contract with the province was “in force.”

It is unclear if the decision will be appealed. As of Friday, the Ontario government said it had no update.

Interestingly, Windstream recently enlisted the services of PR firm Navigator Ltd. Filings to the province’s lobbyist registry show those representatives intend to “meet with members of the government and opposition in order to better understand and encourage resolution on the Ontario government’s offshore wind power moratorium; especially, in relation to Windstream’s contract with the Ontario government for 300 MW of offshore wind power off the coast of Wolfe Island, and whether it will change in light of a NAFTA ruling against the Government of Canada related to this project.”

The offshore wind power moratorium also triggered a now-$500-million lawsuit by Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind Corp. over accusations of misfeasance in public office. Trillium claims the government was targeting the company's Lake Ontario wind project with the offshore wind ban – and that evidence relevant to its case was deliberately destroyed. The Ontario Provincial Police have since said they've launched an investigation. The government denies the allegations.

The poll’s findings also come two months after Ontario pulled the plug on the second round of its large renewable energy project program – “suspend” the procurement, was how the Liberal government phrased it. Dodging those new solar and wind power contracts is expected to save up to $3.8 billion in electricity system costs, the government claims.

In rural areas, former premier Dalton McGuinty’s introduction of the Green Energy Act in 2009 stirred up angry opposition to wind turbines. It was also McGuinty's government, facing an election in 2011, that decided to put the offshore wind power moratorium in place.

However, the Forum poll suggests the hot rage may be cooling somewhat; there was 50 per cent backing for rural wind power among Southwestern Ontarians, albeit with 37 per cent still against the turbines. Not one region surveyed by Forum showed less than 50 per cent support for rural wind power projects.

Offshore wind power was similarly welcomed in the poll across all regions of the province – except in southwestern Ontario, which showed 42 per cent of respondents in favour (the lowest approval for onshore or offshore wind) and 33 per cent opposed.

Broken down along party lines, 71 per cent of Liberals supported rural wind power projects, and 67 per cent of New Democrats did the same. The Tories, however, were another story – only 38 per cent of Progressive Conservatives supported the rural projects, while 48 per cent disapproved.

Tories were somewhat more open to offshore wind, with 42 per cent supportive and 42 per cent against. Liberals were 62 per cent in favour of turbines in the Great Lakes and New Democrats were at 60 per cent support.

The poll results more or less line up with what QP Briefing discovered when it asked the parties what they thought about offshore wind power.

In broader terms, when asked if they support using public funds to invest in “alternative energy sources,” such as wind and solar, 65 per cent of the Forum poll said aye, while 22 per cent went with nay.

Opinion was more divided around using alternative energy to replace fossil fuels. Asked if wind, solar and geothermal would be enough to replace oil and gas, 44 per cent said yes, 30 per cent said no, and 25 per cent said they didn’t know.

Electricity issues have continued to haunt Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government as well, with the Liberal leader declaring the past weekend she had made a “mistake” by not paying more attention to hydro costs.

Another Forum poll from this week showed Wynne’s approval rating has hit 13 per cent – “the lowest value we have ever recorded for a sitting premier,” the polling firm said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Twitter: @geoffzochodne

Geoff Zochodne

Geoff Zochodne joined QP Briefing in 2014 after working as a reporter, photographer and editorial writer for The Oshawa Express weekly newspaper. He is a graduate of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. To contact Geoff: 905-926-8026 Twitter: @geoffzochodne

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