Hamilton Steelworkers are joining the chorus of voices calling for an end to provincial roadblocks to new offshore wind energy projects.
Acting through the Blue Green coalition, a joint venture with Environmental Defence, the union says stopping new wind turbine projects is costing the province 1,900 jobs and denying Hamilton a chance to put unused factory space back into production.
“From the Steelworkers standpoint a couple of tons of steel goes into every one of those turbine towers,” said Tony DePaulo, area co-ordinator for the union. “This could be a real boost for Hamilton’s economy.
“Bringing more of these high paying jobs to our communities would benefit everyone,” he said.
The Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council unanimously approved a resolution last week calling for an end to the ban.
“We urge speedy action to allow this vital project to go forward. We are of the opinion that Hamilton’s and indeed much of the province will see a resurgence of manufacturing if we can become the offshore wind power manufacturing and service centre for the Great Lakes and perhaps North America,” the union said in a news release. “We need these good green jobs and the positive action to address global climate change.”
The use of wind as a way of generating electricity has become a controversial issue in Ontario with environmentalists praising it as a source of “clean” energy while neighbours of wind farms howl in protest over noise they claim destroys the value of their properties.
In February of this year, the McGuinty government bent to the demands of opponents and slapped a moratorium on new projects, claiming more scientific study of the technology was needed.
Since then 16 companies and organizations have formed LOON — Lake Ontario Offshore Network — to oppose the moratorium. Members include Hamilton’s McKeil Marine and Bermingham Foundations as well as Burlington’s Windstream Energy, which had the only feed-in-tariff contract for a project to build 100 three-megawatt turbines in the Wolfe Island area outside Kingston.
Other local members of the consortium include steel fabricators Walters Inc. for its underwater welding of towers, McKeil for transporting towers and cranes, Bermingham for foundation drillings, the Hamilton Port Authority for assembly and trans-shipment space and Samuel, Son & Co. for steel.
LOON wants to build those Wolfe Island turbines to conduct the kind of research the province says it needs but hasn’t carried out itself.
An economic impact study commissioned by Windstream last year said the total Wolfe Island project investment would be $1.36 billion, of which $700 million would remain in Ontario. It would also generate about 1,900 jobs during the five-year construction phase and 175 operational jobs over 20 years.
LOON, supported by the cities of Kingston and Hamilton, plans to build the first offshore wind turbine manufacturing and support facility in North America in Hamilton and build a supply chain throughout Ontario. Wolfe Island is already home to 86 turbines towering across its western end to catch the prevailing winds. They’re owned by Alberta-based TransAlta Corp.
The potential for that kind of new employment has fired up the imagination of groups like the Steelworkers which have seen membership rolls battered by years of recession and industrial decline.
“The province hasn’t given any real reason for why the moratorium is there,” DePaulo said. “We’re going to be doing everything we can to get this lifted. This could be the strategic break that Hamilton and our neighbours need to rebuild our manufacturing economy.”
Blue Green Canada co-ordinator Bill Thompson said the Wolfe Island project being pushed by the consortium promises many potential benefits for Hamilton, including the chance to put empty factory space back to work making wind turbine blades and other components.
“Hamilton has a lot of unused factory space that needs re-energizing,” he said. “The project we want to undertake will show the benefits of wind energy and allow for the development of a lot of good jobs.”
“If we can get this thing rolling it could make Hamilton a North American centre for these kinds of jobs. That would do a lot to help us deal with the issues of poverty here.”
Blue Green Canada is an alliance between the steelworkers union and Environmental Defence, a research and advocacy organization. Blue Green Canada advocates in areas of global trade, the use of toxic chemicals in commercial activity, the creation of green manufacturing jobs and climate change strategies.
Steelworkers blow back against wind energy ban