While West Lincoln council won’t be going down without a fight, there may be little it can do to protect residents from industrial wind turbines approved by the province.
“Is this council ready to give up the battle? No,” said Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt, chair of the planning/building/environment committee. “Are there limitations? Yes there are.”
Merritt was speaking to a consultant’s report prepared for the township regarding the 10-megawatt wind energy project proposed by IPC Energy. Jones Consulting Group Ltd. undertook a municipal review of the project, which will see five industrial turbines erected in the Caistor Centre area under phase one. The consultant, Tim Cane, identified a “general lack of information” from the proponent, leaving the town unable to complete a formal consultation form required under Ontario’s renewable energy approvals process. The township is demanding answers from the proponent over a number of technical issues including location, access, right-of-way use, traffic management, emergency management, construction and natural heritage impacts. At a meeting in December, township staff requested detailed information on servicing and road impact that the proponents promised they would provide by mid-January. To date, the township has not received the requested information and was advised that they were not required to provide any further information to the township.
The fact that IPC Energy is not fully disclosing details of the project further miffed council members whose hands are already tied because of the Green Energy Act, which puts the power of approval in the hands of the province and away from municipalities.
“There are still so many unknowns,” said Ald. Joanne Chechalk, who noted the government does more for protected species than human beings. “How can we go back to the province with a well thought through decision without all of the information?”
Changes to the Green Energy Act require proponents to provide municipalities with all justification reports but since approval was given prior to Jan. 1, 2011, when the changes came into effect, IPC Energy is not required to provide the township with any further reports. Despite the rules, staff are recommending the municipal consultation review not be completed until the information is provided and will notify the Ministry of Environment of this intent. Staff say it is unlikely the province would move forward with final approval without municipal comments.
“We have been keeping in touch with the province,” said Brian Treble, director of planning for the township, noting staff were informed by the ministry that as long as they were working productively to complete their response it is unlikely the province would grant approval without the township’s comments. “The last thing we want is for the proponent to go back the province and say that we are not co-operating.”
Earlier in Monday’s meeting, representatives from the West Lincoln Wind Action Group appeared before council to provide an update on their progress. The group, which is made up of residents who oppose both the IPC Energy application and a larger application by Niagara Region Wind Corporation, informed council about a number of actions various Ontario municipalities, facing a similar fate, are taking. In Wellington County, where NextEra is proposing to build 10 turbines, the municipalities are banding together to seek a legal opinion, said Neil Switzer, WLWAG president. In Erin and Huron East, councils are considering adopting bylaws related to setbacks and noise to fight similar projects. Other municipalities are using permits and fees to combat projects.
“There are things you can do,” Switzer told council. “It’s a big stretch for a small municipality to go against the Green Energy Act but it can be done especially if we work together.”
WLWAG and Glanbrook Wind Action Group are hoping to get municipal representatives from West Lincoln, Haldimand, Wainfleet, Hamilton and possibly Pelham together to discuss possible legal options. They will be inviting their lawyer, Eric Gillespie, to speak about the progress of legal actions across the province. “This will be at no cost to the municipalities,” said Switzer, noting the meeting take place via webcast. “But it is an opportunity for you to ask questions.”
Later in the meeting, Cane encouraged council to look at their options.
“I encourage you to see what your legal options are,” said Cane. “There may be opportunities for you.”
Switzer left council with a number of news articles further outlining the actions various municipalities are taking. He also encouraged council to attend the group’s upcoming information night. On Thursday, April 14 WLWAG and GWAG are hosting a public information meeting, entitled “No safe Place”, at South Lincoln High School. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the meeting beginning at 7 p.m.
“We not only get to be part of the Ontario taxpayers who pay for it, but we have to live with it,” Merritt concluded. “And that is sad.”
Council has directed Mayor Doug Joyner to send a letter to the minister indicating the township’s concern with the industrial wind turbine public review process along with a copy of the planning report and consultant report.