The heated debate for and against wind farms quietly passed a milestone last week when Bruce County’s planning committee recommended 15 Official Plan amendments that will govern commercial wind farms.
The additions will put the county on the leading edge of a controversial issue that’s had little direction from the province, said planner Chris LaForest.
They come after months of review and public input, including a huge file of written submissions.
“There’s some feeling among some that county council shouldn’t be proceeding with these policies because we don’t know enough about wind; we don’t know about the volume of turbines we’re going to get; we don’t know enough about the impact on view sheds,” LaForest said.
“My perspective on this is that in the absence of these policies we essentially have a policy vacuum.”
The recommendations tighten up definitions and regulate noise and setbacks for wind farms. The rules give Bruce County a way to let developers and the public know what’s expected before a wind farm development can get approval.
“The public is saying we’re afraid that these things are going to be causing an adverse impact in our neighbourhoods,” LaForest said. “So county council has an obligation in its powers under the planning act to address their concerns.”
Bruce County’s Federation of Agriculture gave a reluctant nod to the recommendations on wind farm regulations.
President Robert Emerson wants a cautious approach to commercial wind farms, and said the time to study them is now while new transmission lines are still four years away.
Emerson warns wind farms will have a long-lasting impact on the tax base and tourism as well as on the county’s carbon credit numbers. He urged taking a long-term view of their place in the county’s landscape. Emerson described the proposed regulations as a compromise in light of controversy and absence of provincial policy.
“(County councillors) are faced with making some changes to a policy that virtually had no direction whatsoever from the province, so they’ve taken a reasonable attempt to satisfy both sides temporarily,” he said.
Saugeen Shores mayor Mike Smith argued in favour of doing visual assessment studies as soon as possible and designating areas that are off-limits to wind farms.
The county should be able to protect beach and other views that have value to residents and tourists, Smith said.
“You wouldn’t want them on Flowerpot Island,” Smith said. “There’s certain, I think, natural features that we need to protect and we would not want large-scale wind farms in those areas.
“I really think there are areas in our municipality where they should not go simply because there’s other more important features there that may be in conflict.”
The recommendations for the Official Plan are a “first step,” Smith said, and predicted they well evolve as technology changes and the county gets more experience with wind farms.
Kincardine wind farm opponent Tony Clark didn’t make a presentation at last week’s county planning committee meeting, but later said he isn’t happy with the proposed regulations.
They’re weak, Clark said, and cater to the industry instead of to residents.
“There’s absolutely no teeth in the new proposals for the Official Plan,” Clark said. “To me it just looks like the fox designing the chicken pen. I get no comfort, no comfort at all, period.”
Back in the spring, Clark and several other area residents, including members of the Windfarm Action Group, went to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with objections to the Enbridge Ontario Wind Power project in Kincardine.
The board has ruled in Enbridge’s favour, and in support of the screening and conditions Bruce County required for that project.
The planning committee’s proposed regulations aren’t the final word on wind farms. They go to a final vote at the next session of county council. As well, the planning department recommends further studies on visual impact, noise and wind farm density. Those studies will likely start next year.
By Pat Halpin
1 August 2007
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