A second rural municipality in northern Nova Scotia is chasing at its own wind power bylaw. The Municipality of Pictou County could soon be joining Cumberland County in enacting laws over the establishment of wind turbines. The county’s municipal council brings its draft land use bylaw – dealing specifically with wind turbines – to the table for a public hearing this evening. From there, a vote will take it quickly to second reading and adoption.
All along, Pictou County has said it is supportive of wind energy – it’s written as much in the introduction its municipal planning strategy – but finding a compromise, one which will satisfy both the developer and anyone who lives near a wind energy installation, has been a fine line to walk.
To developers like Reuben Burge, who operates two turbines on Fitzpatrick Mountain, near Scotsburn, setback distances could become his biggest stumbling block. But it isn’t a matter of how far away they have to be. Burge said the proposed 600-metre residential setback distance is fine. It’s actually closer than one he recommended to council. He’s more concerned about dealing with property lines, as the draft bylaw has included a minimum setback for those as well (one times the height of a turbine).
“A property line isn’t like any object you can find on a map,” he says – not because of their location, but because often each place they’re researched will yield different results. He’s scoured maps for dozens of property lines, preparing a site for a proposed 50 megawatt installation Nearby. On many occasions, he’s found discrepancies. Researching the Nova Scotia Geomatics Centre Maps and the map that the town or municipality has, he said he’s found property lines off by up to 200 metres.
“And many times, the land owner that’s identified there isn’t the actual landowner anymore. (The information) could be still from 1950 – and because he hasn’t registered his deed, it’s not actually his,” Burge says. “It’d be a challenge to anybody. Go out to your four neighbours around your property line – and all of you, go for a walk and come back and agree on where your property lines are.”
At $2.3 million per megawatt to produce, considered the going rate for utility scale wind energy installations, it’s important to be precise with the details. Burge said setting the distance from residences – and only residences, which can easily be identified on a map – makes more sense.
“The residential setback is clear and easy and concise, and anybody anywhere – whether it’s your bank, Nova Scotia Power, your development officer – can clearly look on a map, identify a house, or a cemetery, or a road or some fixed object and say ‘ok, you are 600 metres away from that.’ The permit then will come very easy – and I need one of those obviously to satisfy my banking lawyer,” Burge says. “Any banking lawyer is going to mull over your contracts, land leases and your permits, because permits are always – can always be a quick dead end to a project.”
If successful, the municipality will be the second in northern Nova Scotia to enact bylaws to establish guidelines for wind energy. In May, Cumberland County established that 500 metres from a residence – or three times the height of a turbine was a compromise.
It didn’t sit well with residents on the Irishtown Road, near Pugwash – who argued for a two-kilometre setback. At the time Cumberland County Councillor Gerald Read, who supported the bylaw, said increasing setback distances to a kilometre or more would jeopardize future projects in the area, sending a message that Cumberland County is closed for wind energy development.
Burge said he’s hoping Pictou County Council doesn’t send a similar message with their proposed bylaw. The area he’s leased for the future development “is a very good area for wind,” and if his bid to construct the installation is successful, he plans to set up an overhaul facility to keep the turbines in good condition.
Colchester County’s chief administrative officer Gary MacIsaac said his county hasn’t created a uniform land-use bylaw to deal with wind turbines but it is likely something council will address this fall. There are proposals for wind turbine installations in the county, but he says neither have been very controversial. Nonetheless, he says “It’s a tricky thing to come up with a simple set of criteria,” one which reaches that compromise.
By Sean Kelly
10 September 2007
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