Farm group calls for cautious approach to wind farms; Warns of possible adverse effects on tourism, taxes
The Bruce County Federation of Agriculture is calling for measures to protect the county’s tourism industry, farming operations and municipalities from the rapidly developing wind energy industry.
“Recent studies in other countries have shown that large wind generating areas and tourism are not compatible. It would be a shame to lose the gains we have made in tourism by not having planning in place to make sure our tourism industry stays vibrant,” federation president Robert Emerson told Bruce County council’s agriculture, tourism and planning committee on Thursday.
The committee was looking at wind energy policy as part of the county’s five-year review of its official plan and because of concerns raised by residents and the industry over the lack of adequate regulations.
Committee members later approved 15 recommendation that chair Charlie Bagnato described as a beginning of more policies to regulate wind energy development.
The recommendations include one calling on developers to provide clearer information about shadow flicker and noise and a provision for a complaint protocol, so members of the public can make their concerns known to the developer and the county.
There was no proposal to change setbacks from built-up areas, which municipalities can set at anywhere from 400 to 700 metres. However, there were recommendations that the planning department conduct further research on the density of turbine development, cumulative impact of wind turbines in an area and the effect of cold weather on wind turbine operation.
Bagnato said more policies will be included once that information is received.
“The overall updates they made today will be helpful in the short term . . . but we’re suggesting now is the time to take a long-term view of the whole issue as it affects county tourism, county agriculture and we’re identifying some real important agricultural issues,” said Emerson.
Emerson held up the example of Grey Highlands, which has designated certain areas suitable for wind energy development and prohibits it in visually sensitive areas. It has incorporated those regulations into its official plan.
“This is fair to all concerned because then wind prospectors will know where they can develop their wind parks and farmers will know if their land is eligible for development,” Emerson said.
Saugeen Shores Mayor Mike Smith agreed with Emerson’s suggestion of looking into protecting natural and tourist attractions from wind energy development.
Chris LaForest, head of planning for Bruce County, noted the proposals by Grey Highlands still need approval by Grey County.
Emerson cautioned against rushing into new regulations to satisfy the demands of the wind energy industry. He noted the transmission capacity for new wind energy won’t be available until 2011 and the recent announcement of up to 3,000 megawatts of wind energy coming from Bruce County within the next 10 years would require between 1,500 and 3,000 wind turbines.
“Once these units are up and running . . . the citizens of Bruce County will be left to look at a wind park of industrial proportions for the rest of their lives,” Emerson warned.
Emerson also is concerned that wind turbines are not being fairly assessed. He worries that will result in municipalities collecting less in taxes.
Wind turbines are assessed by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation at $40,000 for each megawatt of electricity they are rated to produce. The standard 1.5 megawatt turbine worth $2.5 million dollars is assessed at $60,000. A farming operation of the same value is assessed at $500,000.
“To me these large wind turbines have been given a sweet heart deal by the province . . . there’s no fair comparison at all to agriculture. We see it having a detrimental affect on the whole county assessment,” Emerson said.
LaForest said he sees the updates to the county official plan passed by councillors on Thursday as a first step to setting policy for wind energy. Final approval will takes place at a meeting of County council on Aug. 2.
By Don Crosby
28 July 2007
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