The fate of a proposed wind turbine farm on the Nor’Wester Mountain Range is almost in the province’s hands.
After spending four hours in camera discussing the legalities behind the deal, as well as a threatened transit strike, city council, by a 7-5 vote on Tuesday night, approved a land-lease agreement with Horizon Wind, a deal which also OKs the locations of all 18 turbines – subject to ratification next Monday.
Voting for the project were Mayor Lynn Peterson and Couns. Robert Tuchenhagen, Rebecca Johnson, Iain Angus, Andrew Foulds, Trevor Giertuga and Brian McKinnon. The opposition side was led by mayoralty hopeful Frank Pullia and Couns. Aldo Ruberto, Linda Rydholm, Joe Virdiramo and Mark Bentz.
In agreeing to the deal, which will pay the city about $275,000 annually, council stipulated that no work can proceed until the southern Ontario company has all its provincial agreements in place, including the all-important renewable energy approval, which could stop the $75-million project in its tracks.
At-large Coun. Iain Angus said while he weighed the decision heavily and thought long and hard about the effect it would have on Neebing residents, many of whom packed council chambers on Monday night, in the end he said he voted to do what he thought was best for the city as a whole.
Angus said every energy project has some environmental impact, no matter how green it claims to be. This case is no different.
“It’s always with regret that we make decisions that will have an impact on somebody,” he said, explaining his rationale. “What we have to find is a balance. In this particular case we won’t know for 20, 30, 40 years. (But we must serve) the needs of the broader community.”
Giertuga said he too weighed all the evidence, and while the majority of emails he got were from people who opposed the project, face-to-face it was a different story.
“The vast majority of people I talked to on the street, at work and in the shopping malls are in favour of this project,” he said, a smattering of boos arising from the dozen or so faithful who stuck around the viewing gallery until the decision was made shortly after 11:30 p.m.
For Andrew Foulds, four years of delays meant all the pertinent questions have been answered, which is why he was adamant a decision be made before the Oct. 25 municipal election.
“In this particular situation I don’t think we’re going to make everybody happy, and that’s too bad,” he said. “I’m a supporter of green energy and I think this is part of the green energy package.”
Foulds rejected an earlier proposal by Pullia, who asked council to delay the decision in order to get more information from administration, including the possibility of moving some of the turbines further away from residential areas, beyond the 1.1 kilometre minimum Horizon has already agreed to.
“At the end of the day, this council has to take responsibility. Speaking for myself, and I know all councillors and the mayor feel the same way, we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Ruberto, who was initially in favour of the project – and even offered to allow the company to install a turbine at his camp – said he soon changed his mind about giving his approval.
“Had I known what I know now four years ago, we wouldn’t be here. Because I would have voted against it back then. I’m sure there are more people that want this project, because they don’t live (in Neebing).
“It’s not about money. It’s not about big power. It’s about beauty.”
Pullia said it’s not a good deal for the city, raising questions about the need to sign the deal now – in spite of a city-produced report that suggested several lawsuits had been threatened, including a rumoured multi-million dollar suit Horizon was believed to be preparing to file should council have voted otherwise.
“We haven’t been able to negotiate a good agreement, I don’t think” he said.
“There are just too many weaknesses. I think we could have done better,” he added later.
Irene Bond, president of the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee, said she was surprised how close the vote was, and is holding out hope that a councillor or two can be swayed to change their vote before next Monday’s ratification goes through.
Bond, one of several opponents who appeared before council on Tuesday, said it shows how divisive the issue has become.
“There are still people thinking about it. They still have time to ratify next week. So there may be some movement, on location, especially,” Bond said.
She wasn’t sure what their next steps might be, and declined comment when asked if they might launch a lawsuit of their own if the deal is ultimately ratified at the municipal level. They have no recourse at the Ontario Municipal Board as the project falls under the province’s Green Energy Act.
“We’re going to look at all our options and continue our information campaign and see what options we have. You never know,” she said.
City solicitor Rosalie Evans, who hastily produced the report recommending council approve the lease agreement, would not speak with reporters when asked to comment on exactly what council was agreeing to be signing the deal. Evans cited personal health reasons for her silence.
Mayoralty candidate Keith Hobbs all said it was too soon to say whether or not he would attempt to rescind the decision should he be elected. Pullia and Peterson both said that decision would be up to the next council.
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