Behind the Lines - April 2009

In case you hadn’t guessed, we at Better Farming are strong believers in the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. In most months, we log a lot of miles getting photos to illustrate the stories we bring you.

There’s an important photo missing from this month’s cover story written by Mike Mulhern. However, it wasn’t for lack of effort on our part. After an exchange of emails and telephone calls over several weeks, Greg Pruner, president and CEO of Solaris Energy Partners Inc., declined to have his photo run in this issue.

Pruner co-operated fully in an interview and with other staff members in subsequent discussions. Nevertheless, the man who appears to be leading the solar revolution in eastern Ontario is understandably wary. He’s been involved in a lot of news coverage lately and he feels most of it is biased against him or his company or, at the very least, more focused on the location than on the merit of his $10 million dollar project in the Township of East Hawkesbury.

If it becomes law, the Ontario government’s recently announced Green Energy Act will make it easier for solar and wind projects to move forward. To do this, however, the Act will apparently reduce the opportunities for opponents to use the legal process to stop projects such as Pruner’s. He says that, if it had been in effect when he started, the proposed legislation could have prevented the delays and losses – he estimates his costs at $150,000 for the hearings – which he’s suffered.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) supports the idea of a Green Energy Act. Many farmers are expected to try to cash in on anticipated opportunities in alternative energy and the last thing they need is costly opposition. OFA support in getting rid of obstacles is, therefore, natural enough. On the other hand, the federation doesn’t support the use of prime farmland for solar energy projects. And that’s where a few details will need to be sorted out.

A prime argument in the East Hawkesbury situation is a neighbour’s contention that the solar plant will be built on prime farmland. Pruner disputes the “prime” designation, but insists it’s a moot point, since livestock will be able to graze beneath the panels, regardless.

In East Hawkesbury, an Ontario Municipal Board hearing was scheduled to rule on the farmland issue among others, in late March.

Sometime after that, possibly in May, we will learn how both the OFA and the Ontario government balance the traditional right to object legally and the need to preserve farmland, with their shared objective of removing obstacles to green energy.

Better Farming will be following this issue carefully. For the latest details on this and other breaking farm news, visit our website at BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - April 2009