Proposed changes to the Municipal District of Pincher Creek’s Land-use bylaws have local wind farmers threatening to withdraw from the area.
Wind tycoon and Chief Executive Officer of Benign Energy, the group behind Kettles Hill windfarm, Allan Kettles, describes the new measures to regulate wind energy as draconian.
“It’s more difficult to get a windfarm here than a sour gas well,” said Kettles last week. “People are simply going to say thank you very much MD #9, we’re moving elsewhere.” Kettles says he knows of one windfarm developer who has already given up plans to establish a new windfarm in the area and is now focusing its operations in Quebec. “Other areas would beg for this kind of revenue,” said Kettles.
He’s not alone in expressing disgruntlement with the changes. “They seem to want to kill the wind industry,” said Roland Milligan from Wind Power Inc. “I know for sure it’s going to put the kibosh on three projects.
“If this bylaw had come out 15 years ago there would be no Castle River (windfarm) or Cowley Ridge. The MD wouldn’t be getting the taxes.”
The Canadian Wind Energy Association’s Western Policy Manager David Huggil is also concerned about the new proposals. “It’s not something that obviously seems to favour us,” he said last week.
But Municipal District of Pincher Creek Chief Administrative Officer Loretta Thompson says the MD does want to encourage wind developments in the area, but also wants to ensure they are well planned. She says the municipality already has as many turbines approved for the region as those already standing. Before the MD goes ahead and approves any more, council wants to make sure that its planning process is fair.
“We want to encourage wind development in the MD,” she said. “But we want to do it in a planned, organized fashion. There is a visual impact there that we are seeing now. We just want to be sure while we’re approving turbines it is still acceptable to the residents of Pincher Creek.”
Two proposed bylaws are being called into question by the wind industry. Bylaw 1134-07 effectively creates an exclusion zone for windfarm development west of both Highway 22 and Highway 6, which the bylaw describes as scenic areas. Windfarmers argue that this effectively excludes two thirds of the municipality from wind energy development. “The MD doesn’t tell a farmer that he can’t put fertilizer on his land to increase production from 10 bushels to 40,” said Kettles. “They’re clearly affecting the economics of wind and agriculture in a detrimental way.”
Both Kettles and Milligan say the decision as to whether a farmer should be allowed to have turbines on his land should be made by the farmer, not the municipality.“Ranchers cannot afford to ranch the way they have been,” added Milligan. “Wind power gives ranchers the ability to hold on to their land.”
Huggil says the exclusion zone proposal is unheard of anywhere else in the country.
“We’re not aware of any other area that’s subject to exclusionary zones,” he said. “We’re curious as to why wind energy has been singled out in that respect.”
Kevin Van Koughnett, managing director of TransAlta Wind says there are windfarm developers already working on projects in the ‘exclusion zone.’
“All the investment they’ve made is going to be confiscated by the MD,” he says.
Bylaw 1133-07 requires wind energy developers to produce a cumulative effect analysis on flicker effect, sound analysis, density, impact on wildlife and the human community.
“We see 216 windmills today. There’s approval for another 245 out there,” said Councillor Rod Zielinski. “There is a cumulative effect…it’s not the landscape the community was expecting in my books.”
Kettles says the proposal is simply unfair.
“The cumulative effects thing is clearly a wrong policy,” he said. “Because if they’re doing this on windfarms and nothing else applies to hog barns and gas plants.”
“The cumulative effects, doesn’t relate to anything else but wind power in the MD,” added Milligan. “If you have cumulative effects you should have it on country residential too. They’re applying it to wind, but nothing else.”
“Shadow flicker and strobe effect have been proven to be a non issue for a long time,” said Kettles, adding that the proposed requirements for shadow flicker and strobe effect analysis were the municipality’s response to the complaints of a single acreage owner.
Van Koughnett wonders whether the municipality is even qualified to interpret a cumulative effects study.
“I’m not sure the MD has the expertise to evaluate the information that’s being given to them. I don’t know if they have the expertise to evaluate a cumulative effects study,” he said.
The MD is also proposing to amend the setbacks for turbines to a minimum of four times the rotor arc from all property lines outside of the project area in the same bylaw.
“It’s a set back from another guy’s property rights,” says Zielinkski. “If you want a wind project and you sign up 10 sections in a row you can cram in as many turbines as you want.”
Kettles says the restrictions proposed in both bylaws will mean that ranchers and farmers will lose out on the opportunity to maximize their revenue from their land.
“It reduces the revenue farmers can get. It hurts the farmers and the windfarm developer,” he said.
“If the MD pushes too hard on this industry will consider going back and asking the government to fully abide by policy 6-19 that the EUB oversees this,” said Van Koughnett. “If we’re forced into going this route the MD will not have jurisdiction.”
Thompson says the proposed changes are in response to the outcome of the wind energy conversion systems review the municipality conducted last year. That process involved wide-spread public and industry consultation to determine opinion on wind developments in the area.
“In our MDP (municipal development plan) it says the MD will do a review of WECs when they reach a milestone in the number of turbines that have been constructed. Based on that council looked at the bylaw,” she said. “Now we have a certain number up and approved. They want to see if we want to continue on as we are or make changes.”
However, both Kettles and Milligan say that industry has not been consulted during the process reviewing the bylaw.
“I think industry at large would have appreciated the opportunity to work with the MD to ensure that the regulations are practical,” said Kettles. “They have refused to do this, as industry has made numerous requests to see these bylaws before they were put into place.
“Now we’re going to have to do the rear guard action. We’re going to have to convince the MD that some of these things are too draconian. They’re not practical for windfarms or farmers.”
The proposed bylaws have been given first reading, which means they will now go before a public hearing. Bylaw 1134-07 will go before the public on Tuesday Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. while bylaw 1133-07 has a public hearing set for Monday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Both the public and industry will be given the opportunity to speak.
Huggil says that CanWEA will be making a presentation to council at the hearing on Sept. 24.
“I have asked for some specifics. What are their real concerns? We can provide some scientific peer-reviewed guidelines from the rest of the world,” he said. “A saturation or proliferation of turbines isn’t going to exist.”
Any information that comes out of those hearings council deems important enough to alter the proposed bylaws will be considered before the municipality goes ahead with second, third and final readings.
“The Municipal Government Act requires the MD to hold a public hearing and consider what is being said at the public hearing,” said Thompson.
Zielinski says that if substantial changes are made to the document after the public hearing, it will have to go back before the public.
Both Milligan and Kettles say the municipality is trying to push the bylaw through before the elections set for mid-October. Zielinski isn’t denying that is the case.
“Council wants to try and get this thing passed. Because we’ve lived with the mistakes and we want to clear it up for the people coming in,” he said, adding councillors had been working on changing the bylaw for more than a year. “We’ve got to do it right. These are around for a long time. Let’s make good developments.”
There is nothing stopping a new council from revisiting the bylaw and making subsequent changes.
“We want everybody out there to see what’s going on,” said Milligan last week. “I know a lot of ranchers and they’re not complaining about windfarms. So who is?”
By Jocelyn Mercer
20 September 2007
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