For those organizing against toronto Hydro's wind farm who haven't seen one, I'd recommend a drive up to Shelburne.
There, interspersed in farmers' fields, are tall, elegant turbines, one of the few human constructs actually capable of improving landscapes (not all of them, of course).
It's rare that strict functionalism results in such metallic beauty.
That's not to say that debate over the region's energy supply should be reduced to aesthetics. Nor is it to say that the wind farm can't become yet another megaproject. We talk about how to generate power but rarely touch on what we think is worth powering.
Most attention has focused on the Scarborough Bluffs furor, but if there's a real obstacle to renewable power, it won't be from local uprisings, but from the province's fixation on nuclear power.
Energy mandarins and activists are watching new Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman like a hawk. In September, the high-octane pol asked the Ontario Power Authority to review the province's Integrated Power System Plan and explore a greater role for renewable energy and conservation.
The province, he said at the time, needs to "raise the bar on our plans to harness Ontario's vast green-power potential."
But does he have the capability to honour this noble plan when he's continuing to push the $26 billion nuclear expansion at Darlington? Will there really be cash left to boost incentives for alternative sources when the deficits start rolling in?
Sure, Ontario has made strides in wind power: 1,000 megawatts in the last three or four years - from zero. By contrast, each year Germany installs new wind facilities that generate an additional 2,000 megawatts.
What if a recession-struck province decides it only has spare change for atoms? Then again, what if energy demand crashes in the recession, turning the nuclear expansion into one horrendous waste of collective resources?
"If we go big on nukes, there will be little money for renewables," says Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. Nuclear power costs about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, while wind is around 13 or 14. It's deceptive, though - when you factor in the costs of liability for nuclear and the billions needed to decommission plants and store nuke waste, the picture looks different.
Sean-Patrick Stensil, energy campaigner with Greenpeace, says the issue won't be how much money the government feels they have left to spend on renewables, but how much they would lose if nuclear energy had too much competition.
Stensil says the OPA plan, which Smitherman has sent back to the drawing board, "ramps up renewables [development] until 2010, then starts to rein it in, then slows it, then caps it around 2019."
Why are renewables capped? "When the government makes these commitments to huge central sources like nuclear, with long construction lead times, the province has to ensure there is a demand for that electricity when the plants come on line in 10 years," Stensil says. "They're really expensive. You need to make sure there's a market for it."
Meaning, if there are too many renewables, we could be underutilizing costly power from the atom.
Moreover, to the chagrin of enviros, the province limits the size of small-scale, individually generated renewable projects feeding into the grid to under 10 megawatt hours. And though it's far ahead of the rest of North America, the OPA pays only 11 cents per kilowatt hour for wind power sold to the grid and 42 cents for solar under the Standard Offer Contract program - far less than in Europe, where magnificently high prices for power fed into the grid have boosted renewables.
The Standard Offer Contract program is under review, and a number of groups organized into the Green Energy Act Alliance are pushing for better rates per kilowatt hour (called tariffs) to be paid to independent green producers selling their power.
As for Toronto Hydro's proposed wind power project on the lakeshore, the facility, if it meets no obstacles, will be operational in the next five or six years - well before the cap and the new Darlington reactors.
Imagine how the political landscape might change if communities were allowed to be more self-sufficient, if individuals everywhere could sell to the grid, make cash, generate green power and decentralize what is now a bureaucratic, unresponsive power industry.
"It's iconic of a larger fight we need to have," says Stensil. "All Ontarians should have the option to be generators for the province. It should not be just the reserve of the big nuke boys and the fossil fuel lobby."
There's some reason for hope - the Ontario Power Authority's first CEO, Jan Carr, considered a fan of the centralized big power model, has recently stepped down. And Smitherman, for the moment, seems to be expressing genuine interest in finding a new path.
The question is whether he'll be willing to walk it.
The spin on wind
40,000 megawatts Potential wind power in Ontario
5,000 megawatts Wind-generated power planned for Ontario by 2025
8,000 megawatts Wind power that environmentalists say province should be able to install, based on European experience, by 2012
$14 billion Total economic activity that 8,000 megawatts of wind can generate
97,000 Person years of employment that can be created by 8,000 megawatts of wind
64 Number of sites on Great Lakes considered conducive for offshore turbines
58 Percentage of current provincial consumption that can be produced by wind