Grey Highlands council held a public meeting to consider a new fee structure for industrial wind turbines on Monday, March 28.
The municipality is proposing a general building fee of $35,000 per turbine and an additional $100,000 per turbine that would be placed in trust through a surety bond and returned to the wind development company once the turbine is completely decommissioned decades in the future.
The public meeting drew a packed house to the Grey Highlands council chambers, but nobody from the industrial wind industry was on hand to comment about the proposed fee schedule.
Early in the meeting there was tension in the room as members of the public at the meeting questioned why Grey Highlands officials would even allow building permits to be issued to turbine developers. The municipality has asked for a moratorium on turbine development until a health study about their impacts can be conducted.
“I can’t believe we’ll be issuing building permits to anybody. I don’t care what the Municipal Act says. We’re fighting this aren’t we?” resident Kevin O’Brien said at the meeting.
CAO Dan Best and Chief Building Official (CBO) John Acres did their best to ease the tension by explaining the building permit process. Best and Acres said once a turbine company has its ducks in a row and receives provincial approval the CBO is not allowed to deny a building permit.
“I’m in a real predicament. I know the will of council is not to issue permits for turbines,” Acres explained to the audience, noting that once a turbine developer has its approvals from the provincial government he must issue a building permit. “I have a time frame to do that – it’s 30 days. I do not have an option,” said Acres.
Best also explained that municipal staff and council are not allowed to interfere in that process. The CAO also explained that the municipality’s decision to appeal to the courts an Ontario Energy Board ruling allowing a wind turbine company access to municipal roads is a separate issue from the turbine fee proposal.
Best said the Green Energy Act has limited the municipality’s ability to prevent industrial turbines from invading.
“A significant amount of local authority was taken away from us. This council has done everything it can do on behalf of the residents. The direction was to come up with whatever we can do to make sure this kind of development doesn’t happen in Grey Highlands,” said Best, who noted that the municipality had to be prepared in the event that turbines get the go ahead. “We’re running out of options. The idea tonight was to make sure we have an appropriate bylaw in place to deal with permits,” he said.
The proposed fees didn’t draw a lot of comments at the meeting. Several residents asked how the municipality arrived at the $35,000 building fee. Acres and Best explained that building fees have to be justifiable.
Other residents suggested the $100,000 surety was too low and needed to be increased.
Resident Larry Close suggested the municipality should collect even more money up front to deal with potential legal action launched by those disturbed by the presence of the turbines and by road/culvert damage that may happen during construction.
Numerous residents said $100,000 in the bank to decommission a wind turbine 20 years from now doesn’t seem like a lot of money.
“Twenty years from now is $100,000 going to cover it? Where will these companies be? Will the taxpayers have to pay for it?” a person asked.
Another person pointed out that the kind of crane needed to put up the turbines costs approximately $10,000 per day to rent.
Rosemary Mesley suggested the municipality find out how much it costs to build one turbine and base the decommissioning surety on that amount.
Best explained that the wind turbine company is responsible for decommissioning the turbines. If the company fails to do so the landowner becomes responsible. If the landowner does not then the municipality could go in and do the work and put the costs on the tax bill of the property owner.
Grey Highlands council will decide the matter at a future meeting.
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