Wind energy has emerged as one of the most viable and cost-effective means of addressing the intersecting problems of air pollution, energy security and climate change. Especially in Ontario, Canada however, the development of wind energy farms has created a significant amount of opposition. In an attempt to increase support and help local communities realize the benefits of wind turbines, developers are now implementing community benefit models (CBMs) where local citizens and communities can reap the financial rewards that the wind can bring.
Perhaps out of necessity, provincial politicians in Ontario are only now instituting policy that recognizes the importance of community engagement and support for wind energy. At the same time, and perhaps for the same reasons, developers are also beginning to create benefit schemes where more than just the handful of landowners with turbines on their land can realize financial support. While social, political and economic context may limit the number of possible policy options available to Ontario, there is some evidence that wind energy development can be done with success. Through a study of CBMs across Europe and North America, we see that innovative polices have allowed for much more transparency and control, more localized empowerment and have created a greater balance of the costs and benefits a 'wind turbine community' may experience. In light of the recent changes to Ontario's controversial Feed-In-Tariff program, the following broad policy recommendations are made:
1. Develop tools that help to make the development of CBMs more equitable and transparent.
2. Respect communities by allowing the allocation of funds that best serves the area.
3. Carefully develop an electricity discounting scheme.
If they are to be used increasingly in Ontario, CBMs must also be developed with three things in mind. First of all, geographies of scale must be understood in those communities considering wind energy development. It is not enough to decide on a community benefit model without proper consideration of whom and to what extent the benefits will reach inside the community of interest. Secondly, developers must be cautious in using community benefits without creating a sense that the funding is either affecting the planning process or is being used as a ‘bribe’ to win over local support. Third, we must not underestimate the potential CBMs have to empower communities living closely to wind turbine development. Despite the fact that true community ownership on a large scale is not likely in Ontario's short term, local engagement and empowerment through financial arrangements and schemes does hold the promise to increase support for wind energy.