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Wind power gets political; Local control challenging issue

KENTVILLE – Some municipalities in Nova Scotia are struggling with wind energy while others are clamouring for it.

In the absence of provincial regulations, municipalities are responsible for setting their own policies and land-use bylaws when it comes to regulating the wind industry in their districts.

And that’s the way it should be, municipal leaders say.

“The process in Nova Scotia leaves the autonomy for local planning with the municipalities,” Warden Lloyd Hines of the District of Guysborough said in an interview.

“I think that’s wise because it’s not a flat landscape. Each community has its own desires, particular needs, unique features and so on.

“However, at the end of the day, the province has the final say. Provincial governments have the right to overrule planning decisions taken by municipalities, and that has happened.”

It happened last year in Kings County when Agriculture Minister John MacDonell overturned council’s decision to rezone 152 hectares of farmland for development in Greenwich, near Wolfville. Farmland is protected under the county’s zoning bylaws, and it’s also listed as one of five provincial “statements of interest.”

“So the province does have autonomy over these kinds of decisions,” Hines said.

His municipality wants to be the first in the province to build and own a wind farm in partnership with Nova Scotia Power. The project was recently registered for an environmental assessment.

“As far as the province coming forward with uniform regulations around planning matters, whether it’s wind, industrial development or coastal setbacks those are decisions best left to the local community,” Hines said.

“We live in a democratic process, which makes elected councils so important to our communities, because the onus of the decisions rests with those people who represent them.”

Although there are no provincial regulations, the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities developed a model wind bylaw and policies on best practices to serve as guidelines. It has also been hosting various workshops.

“I believe municipalities should have the ability to determine what’s appropriate for our communities,” said Jimmy MacAlpine, president of the UNSM and deputy warden for the District of Digby.

“That’s one of the mandates of municipalities, and that includes wind turbines and the siting of them.

“To have one bylaw for the entire province just wouldn’t work. What works in one community may not work in another.”

MacAlpine’s county spent 16 months working on a bylaw for large-scale wind developments. It eventually decided on setbacks for wind turbines of 1,000 metres from existing homes and 750 metres from vacant property lines.

“We felt that would be appropriate to protect the landowner and the residents and still allow development to take place,” MacAlpine said.

The municipality is now home to a 20-turbine, 30-megawatt Nova Scotia Power wind farm.

“I support wind power if it’s done right,” MacAlpine said.

“If you’re looking at having development in your community, you have to weigh it all out. As elected officials, we’re there to represent the people and you try to do what’s best for the community and you do have to take seriously the direction from the community.”

Dick Killam, a Kings County councillor, is opposed to a large-scale wind energy development proposed for the North Mountain in his area. Municipal council voted Tuesday to put a halt to wind development while it studies the issue.

“If you had provincial regulations, the people would not have a say in the type of development they get in their communities,” Killam said.

“They’re having a heck of a time in Ontario because municipalities are not given a say.”

The provincial government there has set standard policies and a setback distance of 550 metres.

“The province jammed it right down their throats and now they’ve got lawsuits and all kinds of problems because of provincial regulations that override any municipal ones.”

Killam said every community should have the right to decide the type of development it wants. He said wind farming may not be a good fit for Kings County, the third-most densely populated municipality in Nova Scotia.

And if the Dexter government were to override Kings County council’s decision, it “would be a slap in the face to people in the communities who have fought so hard against it,” Killam said.

He said the wind energy industry puts huge pressure on councils to push projects through.

“At least we can put the brakes on this and take a good, hard look at it and make some good decisions,” he said.

“At the end of the day, there may not be a place for them in Kings County.”

Other municipalities like Digby, Guysborough, Cumberland and Shelburne counties are looking for wind energy projects to help bolster their sagging tax revenues.