When Don Quixote described windmills as “monstrous giants” and pledged to wage “righteous warfare” against them four centuries ago, it was intended to be seen as a preposterous literary fantasy.
Yet in the last 25 years, as industrial wind farms have appeared on the landscape, they have become objects of contempt for small pockets of locals who have resisted them, particularly in natural beauty spots.
In neighbouring Prince Edward County, a plan to build a commercial off-shore windmill project has split the community.
But this sort of controversy has been reserved mostly for the biggest and tallest of the breed and largely passed over the small-scale turbines used by households and small businesses.
As advances in technology and political support for renewable energy has grown, amid apocalyptic warnings about climate change, advocates of wind power have viewed cost as the main obstacle to widespread adoption.
“If we are talking about residential – small scale turbines to run a house or cottage – in my experience there is typically less social friction,” says David Timm, a policy expert at the Canadian Wind Energy Association. But the decision by Brighton council last week to place a moratorium on erection of windmills, pending a review, shows the potential for resistance.
The move follows a similar short-term step by Alnwick/Haldimand, but is otherwise thought to be unique in Canada.
By passing the by-law, Brighton became the only municipality in the country known to have a moratorium on windmills, according to the national wind energy association.
The Ottawa-based organization says Brighton was the first municipality it had heard of – out of thousands across the country – to enact such a by-law.
“There are communities that are assessing what their role is and what their policies should be, but I don’t know of any moratoriums in Ontario or Canada,” Mr. Timm says.
“I don’t know of any by-laws that have said ‘thou shall not’ construct windmills.”
Councillors and municipal staff stress the by-law is temporary – enacted for one year – pending an overhaul of their Official Plan.
“Basically, the idea is to study what some of the other municipalities are doing and try and end up with some policy that, generally speaking, could be characterized as permissive, with some restrictions,” said Ken Hurford, the chief planning officer.
“I suspect that there will be some places where it will not be appropriate,” he said, citing built up areas with “homes on lots”.
“I don’t know, if everybody in a neighbourhood like that comes forward and says windmills are a good thing, who knows,” he says.
The planner said the current plan is to “get policies in place in the Official Plan and implement them in the zoning by-laws”.
It will deal with issues like setbacks from property lines and engineering.
“At the end of the day, people will be able to look at the policy and know where they stand,” he said.
Mr. Hurford said because the process was tied to the official plan, it could take until the autumn for the moratorium to be lifted.
But he said it was also possible at some stage wind policy would be dealt with separately, particularly if the Official Plan stalled.
Councillor Mike Vandertoorn said: “Staff was looking for time to develop policy that would allow windmills.”
“We gave them one year – it will take less time hopefully – to come up with a policy that will allow windmills in Brighton,” he says.
Meanwhile, the by-law means “staff are not inundated with requests while they try to develop policy.”
A delay until the autumn could be a setback for locally-owned Rowley Electric, which is in the midst of launching a renewable energy business. The company had hoped to start selling and erecting windmills in the coming weeks and appeared to be the trigger for the by-law.
Rick Farrington, leading the effort for Rowley, said he was looking forward to a good working relationship with the municipality, adding the reaction of council was “understandable” given the pace change was occurring at.
Ontario’s provincial policy statement – intended to guide local planners – is unambiguous and among the most supportive of wind power in the country.
It states that “alternative energy systems and renewable energy systems shall be permitted in settlement areas, rural areas and prime agricultural areas in accordance with provincial and federal requirements”.
Advocates of wind power applaud Ontario but are urging the province to provide more detailed guidance to avoid conflicts.
While Don Quixote may have considered small-scale residential windmills unworthy adversaries, there are likely to be strenuous objectors as the momentum behind renewable energy picks up pace.
One local resident who asked not to be named said: “We wanted to put up a wind turbine. The town vetoed it. We were not allowed. We’ve got lots of wind. It would have generated enough electricity to power our building and would have been no worse to look at than a boat mast.”
by Eoin Callan
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