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Group challenges wind farm approval

A citizens group is going to court to try to stop wind turbines from being built in Grey Highlands.

Larry Close, president of Preserve Grey Highlands Citizens Alliance Inc., says the group is challenging the Ministry of the Environment over its certificate of approval issued to IPR-GDF Suez North America – formerly International Power Canada, before that Aim PowerGen and before that Chenodyn Wind – for wind turbines in two of its projects south of Maxwell.

The judicial review includes documentation of negative impacts industrial wind turbines appear to have on the recreation and tourism industry in the area, on neighbouring property values, on the subsequent tax revenues for local communities and on the health of residents exposed to noise and other impacts.

“The project spans centuries-old wetlands that are source waters for the Saugeen, Grand and Mad Rivers and includes some of Ontario’s most pristine resources,” Close said in an interview Thursday from his home east of Eugenia.

The decision to seek a judicial review comes after Grey Highlands council cleared the way for IPR-GDF Suez North America to begin construction of 11 wind turbines in the Plateau 1 and 2 wind projects in the Wareham/Hatherton area near the boundary with Melancthon Township.

Council approved rates for entrance permit fees and building fees for the wind turbines at a council meeting on June 27.

Close said the municipality had little choice under the Green Energy Act, which has removed local control over the planning approval process.

The group’s application for a judicial review alleges numerous deficiencies in the government’s environmental review process and its failure to address the cumulative effects of multiple industrial wind developments in the community.

“The ministry is ignoring the effects on our health, safety; they are ignoring the impact on the community, they are ignoring the effects on the natural environment,” said Close.

Close claims the ministry is biased in favour of wind power and relies almost entirely on information provided by wind developers, including claims that wind turbines don’t affect property values. He referred to research done by realtor Mike McMurray of Flesherton, who specializes in the sale of high-end properties to buyers in southern Ontario, which indicates property values will drop by as much as 40%.

Close lives within 100 metres of a farm that is proposed to have three wind turbines as part of the Flesherton Wind Project east of Lake Eugenia. The closest turbine will be 600 metres from his house and the property line would be 100 metres from the nearest turbine.

His property has been assessed at $500,000. Using McMurray’s calculations he stands to see the value of his retirement home drop by $200,000.

The alliance is also requesting that the Divisional Court review the government’s almost exclusive reliance on information provided by wind developers in a self-assessment process.

“It’s a proponent-driven process. The proponent came out and said noise won’t be a problem and the ministry accepted that at face value. The proponent said there won’t be any loss in property values and the ministry simply accepted that. They did not do any independent research,” Close said.

Close said he’s aware of more than 40 requests throughout Ontario for full blown environmental assessments which would take the process out of the hands of the proponent and have an independent evaluation of environmental impacts. The requests include two of the proposed wind projects in Grey Highlands.

There are nine projects with 63 proposed wind turbines related to Grey Highlands.

“We went to the director of the environmental assessment and approvals branch and asked for a full environmental assessment of both these projects. What they say is that they talked to the proponent and he says there is no problem and therefore your request is denied,” Close said.

The next step was to appeal both decisions by the ministry directly to the minister of the environment and in both cases the requests for a full environmental hearing were turned down within the past year.

Close noted that a member of the Alliance, Michael Trebilcock, professor of law and economics at the University of Toronto, further claims that even the government’s own environmental commissioner has described the environmental assessment process as “broken”.

Close said the appeal to Divisional Court is one of several steps by members of the alliance over the years in its bid to stop wind turbines.

The next step, he says, will be a class action suit against the wind energy developers to compensate affected land owners for loss of property values.

Grey Highlands Mayor Wayne Fitzgerald supports the action of residents to challenge the wind energy industry, rather than having the the municipality spend taxpayers’ money.

“I think that is the appropriate route that these types of actions should be taken, through the groups that want to spend their own money and seeking the types of resolutions they want,” Fitzgerald said.

Grey Highland council recently voted by a narrow margin to appeal to the Divisional Court a ruling by the Ontario Energy Board giving IPC approval to use municipal road allowances to build a transmission line from its wind farms to the hydro distribution grid.

Fitzgerald said in the light of the court challenge by the alliance, council may reconsider its decision to go ahead with a court challenge.

The alliance filed its court challenge late last week. No date has yet been set for a hearing.