A new report prepared for the group representing Nova Scotia municipalities concludes there are no internationally accepted standards for dealing with the controversial issues around wind energy.
The 117-page study by environmental consultant Jacques Whitford outlines a broad range of possibilities available to host municipalities but says it will be up to elected officials to decide how restrictive they want to be in their approach to regulation and the specifics of their bylaws.
Setting rules governing the location of wind turbines is up to the municipality where they are situated. In some municipalities, turbines can be placed in many areas “as-of-right,” meaning they don’t require special approval from a government agency. In other areas they can only be set up through a development agreement.
Given the lack of scientific consensus on issues ranging from noise to impact on real estate values, the study says it is not possible to introduce “one set of model bylaws that municipalities can take off the shelf and use right away without debate.”
The study looked at zoning and bylaws in place in Canada, the U.S. and Europe and sets out a number of options for Nova Scotia municipal leaders to choose from.
Robert Wrye, president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, said the study will allow municipalities to make local policy based on both national and international best practices.
“Each municipality is unique, and one size may not fit all,” he said adding the options in the study “can serve as starting points for good local policy and municipalities can tailor them to suit the needs of their community.”
The issue of noise, impact on property values and the appropriate distance between a turbine and homes have been the hot-button issues in Nova Scotia.
On the issue of noise, the study said it is impossible to generalize about the distances at which various noise levels can be heard since measurements from a turbine or wind farm vary widely depending on the manufacturer and type of turbine, landscape, wind speeds, time of measurement and weather.
The study’s overview of jurisdictions across Canada, the United States and Europe showed that with a few exceptions, regions that have established setback distances of 1000 metres or less, with most at 700 metres or less.
Some property owners, neighbours, researchers and opponents of wind developments in Nova Scotia have argued that such a range is not adequate. Some have suggested distances of 1.6 to 2.2 kilometres.
The study said there is little evidence in Canada to show whether neighbouring property values decrease as a result of wind energy development. But a British report based on an independent study conducted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Oxford Brookes University concludes it’s an “urban myth” that wind developments affect housing prices.
Mr. Wrye said municipalities have the authority to require minimum setbacks between wind projects and other buildings, and the information in the report will help them create guidelines.
Ultimately, wind energy projects must conform to the zoning bylaws of the municipality, he said.
Acting Energy Minister Bill Dooks said wind turbines are an important part of the province’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our target is 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020,” he said in a release. “To reach that deadline, we must move away from coal-based electricity and look to cleaner sources like wind. Our renewable energy policy will see the number of wind turbines in Nova Scotia grow from 40 to more than 250.”
Close to 90 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, accounting for more than 40 per cent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
By Steve Proctor
2 February 2008
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