Tilting at windmills

(Tribune May 2007)

On Tuesday, the Tribune published a glowing editorial supporting the action of the Niagara Region in investing $4 million in a $23 million partnership with a private developer to build a commercial wind farm in Wainfleet.

The editorial paints a pretty picture of five 100-meter tall windmills “dotting the Wainfleet landscape”

100-meter tall windmills do not dot the landscape. They dominate the landscape!

It is stated that when fully operational, the windmills will generate enough electricity to power 3,500 homes. It is not stated that when they are not operational, they produce squat! That is the way the wind blows.

There are approximately 183,000 households in Niagara. Under the most generous estimate the $23M investment will power less than 2% of the requirements of our homes and absolutely nothing for our industrial demands.

A great deal is made in the editorial about the revenue payback from this investment.  Let’s think about that statement. Suppose the investment does give a payback and, let me be very generous, suppose we get a 20% return on our investment. That is $800,000 per year. The total expenditure of the Region is about $777 million. My generous estimate amounts to (is my math right?) less than two tenths of one percent.  Do not hold your breath for your tax reduction.

The editorial goes on to say that this investment is no different than other municipalities being shareholders in revenue-generating hydro utilities. I submit that there is a big difference. Hydro utilities have the mandate to source and deliver power. That is their job and they do not need other public bodies second-guessing their actions. The Region has a number of jobs that it is mandated to do. The Region should concentrate on its mandate and stop building empires.

If the Tribune editor would refer to his own paper, he would find that this financial relationship was the subject of a last minute scramble just prior to the last election. The reported reason for the rush seemed to be that the developer might choose another partner. The only voice of reason at that time seemed to come from Lincoln Mayor, Bill Hodgson, who was reported to observe that the business of producing electric power was not within the Region’s mandate.

The same report quoted then Regional Financial commissioner John Bergsma as saying if he were a private investor; he would be prepared to invest in the project. I have not seen any updated report of Mr. Bergsma’s position, but if it is unchanged, I encourage him to get out his chequebook and go for it.

Just do not risk my tax dollars. And, Mr. Editor, do not encourage these people in glowing editorials.

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