VARNA – Bluewater municipal council got one step closer to charging huge fees for industrial wind development in the municipality at its regular council meeting Feb. 19.
The municipality’s wind turbine building bylaw, which has been under consideration since November, was reviewed and amended by Eric K. Gillespie, Bluewater’s Toronto-based lawyer. Although Gillespie did not attend the meeting, he forwarded his amendments to the bylaw.
Bluewater chief administrative officer Steve McAuley presented Gillespie’s report, and said based on his advice the base building permit fee has been changed to a $14,000 flat rate, regardless of the wattage of the turbine.
“This is slightly different than what was originally requested by council,” he explained.
“That’s based on advice from our solicitor with regards to what would be reasonable that we could defend.
McAuley noted the municipality asked a consultant what it would cost to review the application, noting the consultant came up with the $14,000 number.
Council had asked for a $10 fee per each kilowatt of output, which would have meant a $16,500 fee for NextEra Energy’s 1.6 megawatt turbines and $23,000 for Northland Power’s 2.3 megawatt turbines.
In response to a question from Stanley West Coun. George Irvin about the flat fee, McAuley said the consultant’s report indicates the cost to do a review of the turbine does not change based on the turbine size.
“It really didn’t matter what size the turbine was to them when they were doing the review,” he said. “The cost would be the same regardless.”
As previously reported, the bylaw was expected to make the cost of developing a turbine in the municipality close to $1 million apiece. However, that price included a $25,000 per year, per turbine economic development fee, which based on the 20-year wind companies’ 20 year contract, equalled $500,000 each.
In his missive to council Gillespie noted the economic development charge would likely fall under the Development Charges Act and would require a separate bylaw.
“They suggested we leave that out and deal with it totally separately,” McAuley said.
The bylaw still includes a $220,000 security per turbine for decommissioning, $100,000 per turbine to cover any health or property damages and $100,000 per turbine to cover any legal fees the municipality may incur in relation to wind turbines.
Councillor-At-Large Tyler Hessel acted as chairperson for the meeting since Mayor Bill Dowson, Deputy Mayor Paul Klopp and Hay East Coun. John Becker declared conflicts. As well, councillors Kay Wise and John Gillespie were not in attendance.
McAuley noted the bylaw will be brought back in its final form at council’s March 4 meeting for its final three readings. He added Eric K. Gillespie plans to be at that meeting.
McAuley said until the bylaw has been given three readings it is not in place, meaning if a building permit was applied for Bluewater would have to provide one at no cost since council struck the previous permit from the books last year.
However, McAuley added there is no danger of that because there’s been no Renewable Energy Approval granted.
The bylaw is available to be viewed on the municipality’s website at www.town.bluewater.on.ca
NextEra threatens legal action
NextEra Energy, the developer responsible for the Goshen and Bluewater wind projects, which propose 52 turbines for the municipality between the two, also addressed council at its Feb. 19 meeting.
Nicole Geneau, the project director for the Bluewater and Goshen projects, updated council on where the projects stand.
She noted the company expects to hear back from the government about the Bluewater project in mid-March.
“We would anticipate starting construction, as I’ve always maintained, in the middle of this year, so June of 2013,” she said. “We would be fully operational by the end of this calendar year.”
NextEra’s legal counsel John Terry, with the law firm Torys in Toronto, spoke to council about the bylaw.
He expressed concern with the bylaw, noting NextEra is making serious investments with regard to the project.
“There are certain limitations as to what municipalities can do under the provisions of the Green Energy Act,” Terry said. “Council has to be very careful about staying within what it’s legally empowered to do.
“I must say, when you look at the numbers involved . . . I am concerned that once we look at it that we may find that some of the proposals here are going beyond what municipalities can do.”
He added there may be similar concerns regarding the unreleased road use agreement.
Terry added NextEra does have certain legal rights that they are willing to pursue.
“If it becomes necessary to take steps in court in regard to bylaws that are passed or potentially to have to seek damages, if damages are involved, then NextEra will have no choice but to follow those routes,” he said. “There are very serious legal issues at stake here.”
Dave Griffiths, president of the anti-turbine group Bluewater Against Turbines (BAT) also addressed council, thanking the seven members of Bluewater council who have shown their opposition to the turbines for taking a stand.
He also voiced his opposition to the Green Energy Act, calling it and wind energy, “the biggest scam ever played out in the history of our community.”
“The Green Energy Act is premature and ill-conceived,” he added.
Griffiths also attacked the wind energy employees.
“If I was employed by either NextEra or Northland Power I could not look myself in the mirror for fear of what was looking back at me,” Griffiths said. “I would have a hard time living with myself knowing full-well that I’m helping to destroy the lives of honest hardworking people.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he continued. “Go home and erect these jokes on your own property.”
Griffiths received applause at the end of his comments from the close to 70 attendees in the gallery.
Hal March of the Bluewater Shoreline Residents Association (BSRA) also addressed council in opposition to wind turbine development.
March argued the health and property damage security of $100,000 was insufficient.
“Property values do drop in proximity to turbines,” he said, noting there could be loses of up to $5 million per turbine just for the Grand Bend Wind Farm. “Someone needs to protect us from that and we hope Bluewater will do that.”