NORWICH – After much discussion, Norwich Township council has taken a wait-and-see approach to a wind turbine development slated for the area.
Newly elected Ward 4 Coun. Susan Hampson jump-started the conversation at Tuesday’s inaugural council meeting with a controversial proposal to draft bylaws surrounding wind developments.
“I just feel like we aren’t doing anything. I don’t mean to be negative. Council has said they support the East Oxford Community Alliance, and I just think it’s time we put some substance behind that,” she said.
The East Oxford Community Alliance, made up of friends and neighbours in Norwich Township, formed last spring with a mandate to educate the public about wind turbine safety concerns and to stop the proposed development slated for Gunn’s Hill Road. The project, more than two years in the making, has been stalled while ProWind Canada awaits approval from the Ontario Power Authority to tie into the hydro grid. If approved, 10 turbines would be built along Gunn’s Hill Road over 12 properties between Highway 59 and County Road 14.
Michael Graves, the township’s CAO, cautioned council about implementing bylaws that would not stand up if challenged.
In his report to council, Graves explained bylaws must be made in good faith.
“If the municipality is passing a bylaw for the health and well being of its residents, it must be for that purpose, not to prohibit wind turbines,” Graves said.
When bylaws are written not in good faith, they can be challenged and will be overturned, he said, adding the cost to the township might not be worth the gain.
“You could do all of this and gain just 50 metres for a setback and have spent a great deal of money,” he said to council.
Councillors and staff also discussed the unintended consequences of a low frequency bylaw if implemented. Graves said, to implement the bylaw, all operations, including livestock operations, would need to undergo baseline testing. He feared that livestock operations would be caught in the bylaw, hindering current and future operations.
Enforcement posed another concern for Graves. In order to enforce the bylaw -and to do initial testing -the municipality would need to contract a company with the equipment and the capability to do the testing. The cost of a project like that is unknown, he said.
“Really to devise something like this you would be looking at hiring a bylaw division that only dealt with this issue. And on top of all of this is the problem is the Green Energy Act itself, which can change regulations at any time.”
Graves told council that it’s a provincial priority to promote renewable forms of energy. Under the Municipal Act, provincial legislation like the Green Energy Act always supersedes the power of municipal bylaws.
Mayor Don Doan spoke about progress the township had made on the issue.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say we aren’t doing anything. We have staff in meetings with other municipalities in the county discussing turbine-related options. We want to make sure the same standards are across the board,” he said.
Doan said Brian Reid, the township’s chief building official, meets regularly with other building officials to discuss fee grids and current bylaws in place to protect roadways and municipal infrastructure from damage.
Coun. Pat Lee hadn’t made up his mind on the ill effects of wind turbines, but did say he thought they were bad for Oxford County. He reminded councillors that county council had already voted to stay out of the issue because they had no authority over development.
“I would hate to see us going down a path pouring tax payers money into fighting something that we can’t win and that not all our residents are opposed to,” he said.
“I think our ace in the hole right now is that this company hasn’t received the go ahead from the government. I don’t think they have the capacity to go ahead. I don’t think they will get funding. I’d like to see what happens in the upcoming provincial election next fall.”
After the discussion Hampson decided to remove the motion to have staff draft bylaws, but asked fellow councillors to keep their minds open and to discuss the option again at another date.
“Really, what I wanted was to have the discussion. To talk about it and hear what you’ve been doing,” she said.
Council did agree with two parts of the original motion. Council will send out an invitation to all rural mayors in Oxford County and MPP Ernie Hardeman to meet in Norwich to discuss the issue. Council will also request to meet with Brad Duguid, the current provincial energy minister, during the Ontario Good Roads Association convention at the end of February.