Friday, 2 May 2008

Exxon Reports Huge Profits, While Wind Power Finds Opposition: How to Get out of Our Energy Quandary.

Louis-Gilles Francoeur, that great environmental reporter for Le Devoir, has an interesting rumination on public consultation, wind power, and government transparency this morning. He begins by writing about opposition for a wind mill project in the Charlevoix region. The project is one of 200 being developed for possible development by Hydro Quebec throughout the province. It would put 37 large wind mills on mountain tops within view of the summits of mountains in a provincial park, and would require the acquisition of rights-of-way through currently-protected land.

Nature Québec, la Société pour la nature et les parcs du Québec (SNAP) and the association representing ZECs (zones d’exploitation controllée, or areas where development like hunting, fishing and logging are controlled by the government) are all opposed, but Francoeur argues that the sight of windmills is not necessarily a bad thing. While using public and semi-public land is certainly debatable, a worse problem, in his opinion, is not getting local areas involved in planning projects like this. If the hydroelectric utility had announced from the beginning that it would give priority to wind power projects developed by rural governments, the emphasis would have been on getting locals on board.

Worse yet, he says, is holding public hearings when projects with environmental impacts are only sketches, like the liquid natural gas ports proposed for the St. Lawrence at Gros Cacouna and Rabaska. Neither may finally come to pass because the Russian natural gas may never be exported, but the projects have pitted one region against another. It would have been far better to get assurance that the natural gas was available before going ahead with hearings.

Public hearings at this point of individual wind power projects won’t solve the problem he concludes.

There’s a certain irony that the press conference protesting the Charlevoix project was held the day that Exxon announced that it had made $10.,9 billion US in the first three months of 2008. Members of the Rockefeller family
say its high time the company began using some of that enormous profit for funding renewable energy. Their argument isn’t all altruistic, because, says economist Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, the company needs to adapt to survive in a rapidly-changing industry, and this means getting into clean energy.

Photo: wind power in central Montreal.

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