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Huron East won’t pass bylaw to protect health, safety of residents close to turbines

After consulting with a second lawyer, Huron East has given up on trying to write a bylaw to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of its citizens living near industrial wind turbines (IWTs).

After a closed session at its Feb. 21 meeting, council presented a press release to the media outlining the two-year process it undertook to investigate a bylaw to address the concerns of local ratepayers worried about their health and safety as local industrial wind projects progress.

Last November, 60 members of Huron East Against Turbines packed the council chambers asking for a bylaw protecting the health, safety and property of ratepayers living near the proposed wind project in St. Columban, offering sample bylaws from Arran-Elderslie and ACW, which included 2,000-metre setbacks and conditions that make the developer responsible for a number of costs incurred by the municipality during the building and operation of the wind turbines.

But, the press release said that a second opinion from London, Ont. lawyer Fred Tranquilli of Lerners LLP is “very similar” to that of Huron East solicitor Greg Stewart who said the provincial government has taken away any control municipalities have over renewable energy projects with the Green Energy Act.

While Stewart presented his opinion to councillors during open session with a public report, council met with Tranquilli in closed session and will not release his comments to the public, citing solicitor-client privilege.

“The Green Energy Act has taken away all the powers we had under the Municipal Act. The Arran-Elderslie and ACW bylaws can’t be enforced. We can pass any bylaw we want but we can’t enforce it. And, at the end of the day, if we can’t enforce a bylaw, it’s sort of redundant,” said Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler in a phone interview after the meeting.

Steffler said that because HEAT questioned Stewart’s opinion, the municipality took the issue to a second lawyer only to receive the same opinion.

“We did what we’ve been asked to do,” he said. “If we could act within the law, we will but we’re not going to spend money on something we can’t enforce. We’ve got to watch where we’re spending the taxpayers’ money. Other municipalities can do what they want.”

Huron East’s press release refers to a recent appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal concerning the Kent Breeze project, which found insufficient evidence to suggest serious harm to human health if the Ministry of the Environment noise guidelines are followed. According to the press release, Tranquilli pointed out that individuals and groups have the option of appealing a wind turbine development and “the onus is on the appellants to prove serious harm.”

Rob Tetu, a member of HEAT, said he was very disappointed by Huron East’s decision.

“It seems the instruction to Mr. Tranquilli was to find out if council could pass a bylaw instead of formulating a bylaw that could be passed. The precautionary principle should apply, not waiting until people are hurt. It seems a shortcut is being taken to save the municipality money by not pursuing legal action by writing a proper bylaw,” he said.

Tetu said the Environmental Review Tribunal, while ruling on the Kent Breeze project, also reported that if facilities are placed too close to residents, wind turbines can cause harm to humans.

“It’s no longer a question of whether indirect harm is caused by wind turbines but how much,” said Tetu, adding that information from the ERT decision is left out of Tranquilli’s comments.

Tetu said that HEAT provided Huron East with sample bylaws from Arran-Elderslie and ACW so “they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could have used this stuff.”

“Other municipalities are fighting back and we would have liked to see Huron East do that too,” he said.

Steffler said he thinks Huron East has “done a lot” to help its citizens.

“We listened to the people and got legal advice which, at the end of the day, said, ‘You are powerless.’ We listened to groups for three years and tried to pass bylaws that are unenforceable. Until someone unties our hands, this is where we stand,” he said.

Huron East is currently involved in three industrial wind turbine projects, including a 15-turbine project by St. Columban Energy north of St. Columban, a 37-turbine project in Bluewater which proposes a 115 kv transmission line along Centennial and Hensall Roads in Tuckersmith to the Seaforth transformer station and a 48-turbine project proposed by Northland Power in the Grand Bend area that may involve a transmission line in the south part of Tuckersmith to connect to the transmission grid south of Seaforth.