Further research will be done on recommended setbacks and other issues of public concern prior to the passing of Central Huron’s proposed zoning bylaw to regulate wind-energy facilities.
More than 25 taxpayers and area residents gathered at the Holmesville community hall on Saturday morning to discuss the proposed zoning bylaw, which county planner Susanna Reid called “the final piece of the land-use planning framework for wind-energy facilities in Central Huron.”
“If this bylaw is passed, applications will be reviewed one by one. It’s not a slam dunk, we’re setting up guidelines to follow,” explained Coun. Pamela Stanley, who chaired the meeting because Reeve Bert Dykstra and Deputy Reeve John Bezaire were unable to attend.
“Right now we’re a little too loosey-goosey in my opinion. We want to have as much control as possible here at the municipal level.”
Councillors Alison Lobb, Brian Barnim, Tim Collyer, James Ginn and Marg Anderson were also in attendance. Ginn declared a conflict of interest.
After describing the process developers would have to go through to get approval, Reid outlined the local planning issues associated with wind turbines, including:
visual impact, blade glint and shadow flicker; overshadowing, ice throw; noise; electromagnetic interference, environmental impact; stray voltage; and decommissioning and rehabilitation.
Amending bylaws from the former Goderich Township, Hullett Township and Town of Clinton, the proposed bylaw creates a new zone specifically for wind energy facilities, called AG-5, that would permit all general agricultural uses and accessory uses.
Definitions and setbacks would also be established.
Intended to generate electricity not exceeding on-site capacity, a small-scale wind-energy facility, will be limited to 50 kilowatts capacity in urban zones and 500 kilowatts capacity in agricultural zones.
Commercial facilities will have a nameplate capacity exceeding 500 kilowatts, only to be permitted by rezoning and subject to site plan approval.
A point of reception is defined as a place – dwelling, recreational residence, hotel, retirement home, hospital, etc. – on a separately titled lot that would be impacted by the wind turbine.
Commercial wind facilities
According to the proposed bylaw, commercial wind turbine front and side yard setbacks must be 1.2 times the height of the structure, including blades, while interior and side yard setbacks should be two times the rotor blade length.
Setbacks from a vacant lot of four hectares or less and dwellings on neighbouring lots will be 400 metres. An additional 200 metres will be added to the setback from urban, recreational and institutional zones, for a total of 600 metres.
“A turbine can be sited closer to the rear and side lot line with agreement from the abutting neighbour, registered on the title of both properties,” Reid added.
“However, if someone wants to build a new house or barn on one of the properties next to an existing wind turbine they would have to consider the setbacks.”
During the question period, Fred Dutot suggested council treat all property owners equally by creating one standard setback of at least 600 metres or more.
“You’re setting a double standard. I feel that all residents should enjoy the same standard,” he said.
“I wonder why Central Huron doesn’t become a leader rather than a follower. Set the bar higher and take the side of caution by making a 600 metre setback.”
And while the proposed setbacks were designed to direct commercial developments away from urban areas, Reid said the bylaw is “a work in progress, so we’ll take all your comments into consideration.”
Heather Boa, community relations coordinator for Twenty-Two Degree Energy – and a Central Huron resident – also took the podium to thank council for the opportunity to provide input.
Boa reminded council that wind energy has been part of the global landscape for quite some time and it is not a new technology. She also asked for the reasoning behind the proposed setback distances.
Twenty-Two Degree Energy is proposing a 150-megawatt project in the Clinton-Bayfield-Goderich area.
Because of a transmission constraint issued by the provincial government, applications for projects larger than 10 kilowatts or 250 kilowatts in the case of farm-based projects in southwestern Ontario will not be accepted until more transmission capacity is made available.
“Essentially there is a freeze on large scale wind developments in this municipality and many others because of limits in the transmission capacity,” Reid explained.
“Central Huron still thought it was valuable at this stage to develop a zoning bylaw so that when transmission capacity becomes available there is a process to receive and consider wind turbine development.”
Optimistic that the restrictions will be lifted in the near future, Boa said the local bylaw will “become a relevant guiding document for the development of our project.”
“We are pleased with the document in its current form, and have made some minor adjustments to our project strategy in order to met the requirements set out in the proposed zoning bylaw amendment,” she added.
Commercial wind-energy facilities will be prohibited in urban areas.
Richard Clarke asked council where commercial wind turbines are planned within the municipality.
“The people in this room have the right to know right where you want to put these things,” he said. “Frankly they’re ugly. It’s like putting a hydro track through. I think anyone who says this is okay is crazy.”
Reid said while developers may have plans in the works, council hasn’t received any applications, making any discussions on their locations “premature.”
Coun. Ginn added he knows of two test turbines that currently exist in the municipality.
Small scale turbines
Small scale wind-energy facilities will have a three-point application process. After obtaining a certificate of approval for noise from the Ministry of the Environment – if necessary – property owners would submit a sketch for review by municipal staff and obtain a building permit.
“We’re proposing that no zoning bylaw amendment be required for small scale wind turbines,” Reid said.
In urban areas small scale turbines will be permitted in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional zones, as an accessory to the permitted use.
The turbines may be attached to a building’s roof, but cannot be in the front yard or attached to the facade of the building.
Subject to the height requirements of the existing zone, any small wind turbine in an urban area must have a setback of 1.2 times the height of the turbine from lot lines and three times the height of the structure from a point of reception on a separately titled lot.
In agricultural zones, small scale wind turbines are permitted as an accessory use and exempt from zone height limitations. The setbacks are the same as those in urban areas.
Signs cannot be attached to any small scale wind turbines.
Property owners in attendance voiced their concerns on a number of issues, including impact to wildlife and livestock, declining property values and tax implications.
“It’s a catch-22 situation. Everyone wants to develop renewable energy, but no one wants a negative impact on people or their livestock,” Laurie Hazzard said.
Coun. Lobb noted that even if the bylaw is passed, amendments can be made after the fact.
“We have to have a bylaw that treats everyone properly to begin with. The time to make changes is now, not after the fact,” Carol Dutot said.
Communication difficulties between the municipality and its residents were also discussed and council agreed to do all it can to get the word out for future meetings.
Dave Mustard encouraged council to “play it safe,” and consider setbacks of up to one kilometre.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Coun. Stanley added. “We need time to do research and get the information we need, but at the same time we need to get a process in place to deal with future applications.”
In an interview following the June 16 meeting, Reid said the proposed bylaw will “bump the public consultation right to the beginning of the land use planning process,” rather than the end.
“It’s an improved process,” she added. “It’s difficult for the developer to make changes at the end if they have everything else scheduled out.”
Council agreed to further discuss the issues identified during the public meeting and get additional information prior to passing the bylaw.
“It’s clear after today that we need to do our homework before this gets passed,” Lobb said. “A lot of good questions have been asked.”
By Jennifer Hubbard
20 June 2007