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Windmill rules proposed; HRM to hold public hearing on turbines

Halifax regional council has given the green light to exploring wind energy in the municipality.

Council approved a motion Tuesday to hold a public hearing on proposed wind turbine regulations. Halifax Regional Municipality planning staff have come up with proposals on such issues as where turbines would be allowed and how far they must be from houses.

For example, the most common turbines, which are more than 60 metres high, would not be allowed in densely populated areas, Shayne Vipond, a senior planner with HRM, told councillors. In rural areas, large turbines would have to be at least 550 metres from the nearest inhabited building.

There are turbines as high as 120 metres in other parts of the province, such as Pubnico. That’s about three-quarters the height of the red and white smokestacks at the Tufts Cove power generating station in Dartmouth.

Such large turbines can generate two megawatts of power, enough to heat and light 200 to 400 homes, Vipond said.

No turbines of any size would be allowed in regional parks, protected areas, conservation areas or the proposed Western Common wilderness area. Turbines can range in size from “micro” – up to 23 metres high – to the large models.

In what could be a controversial move, city staff is urging councillors to give a blanket approval of turbine construction as long as the project conforms to regulations. This “as of right” zoning approach, as opposed to individual development agreements, is needed because wind turbine projects will always draw criticism, said Paul Dunphy, HRM’s director of community development.

“What council is being asked to do today is set a clear direction for wind turbines (and) put in reasonable measures but not necessarily measures that would make everybody happy,” Dunphy said.

“Turbines will always be tall, they will always be on high points of land and they will always be obvious. And there will always be people who object to them.”

A couple of councillors expressed discomfort with the “as of right” approach. But most agreed in principle with the proposals and said the city should pursue the issue, which has been before council for two years.

“We need to move forward and show some support for this,” said Coun. Darren Fisher (East Dartmouth-The Lakes). “All energy sources have drawbacks and probably every energy source has more drawbacks than wind energy.”

Fisher’s fellow Dartmouth representative, Gloria McCluskey, was the only councillor who spoke against pursuing wind energy. She said there are too many questions regarding the health effects of wind turbines. McCluskey (Dartmouth Centre) noted that a Pubnico family moved from their home because they said noise from a 120-metre turbine was making them sick.

The issue will be turned over to council committees next month.