Two rural Ontario municipalities are putting expensive new hurdles in front of wind farms in their communities.
Councils in Bluewater, on the Lake Huron shoreline, and West Grey, about 165 kilometres northwest of Toronto, have passed bylaws squeezing more money from prospective wind developments.
Politicians say they’re trying to protect the interests of their communities, where many people greet large-scale wind farms with apprehension: West Grey, for example, has formally declared itself an “unwilling host” for big wind farms.
But the wind company in both cases, NextEra Energy Canada, isn’t going quietly.
It has dispatched lawyers from Torys LLP to both councils to argue that the bylaws won’t hold up under Ontario law.
“We believe the law is on our side,” said NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel in an interview from the company’s head office in Florida.
In a letter from Torys to the Bluewater council, the company argues that the new rules “would unlawfully impose financial obligations on NextEra.”
Those obligations aren’t trivial.
Bluewater’s new law would impose a building permit fee of $14,000 per turbine on wind developments. The bylaw also imposes refundable security deposits totaling $420,000 per turbine for decommissioning, health and property damage, and legal fees.
West Grey’s bylaw takes a somewhat different approach.
It would levy fees of about $150,000 on NextEra, West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles said in an interview.
Most of those would be for entrance permits to land where turbines are to be located. Others would be to widen corners to that trucks with long loads would be turning.
But the municipality would also require security deposits of $100,000 per turbine, plus further deposits in case of damage to roads, bridges, and culverts.
“The local taxpayer should not be picking up the cost for any damages done by a for-profit development,” said Eccles, who noted that the council has declared West Grey an “unwilling host” for wind turbines.
He said gravel companies pay similar security deposits in West Grey, and likened it to property developers having to pay for new streetlights and turning lanes.
Eccles said he was taken aback by NextEra’s stiff response.
“I was a little surprised at the heavy-handedness of having a Bay Street lawyer come up to West Grey,” said Eccles.
“I would say he was trying to be very intimidating. He said in their interpretation it was against the Green Energy Act, against the Municipal Act, it wasn’t legal, and they’d maybe not work with us any more – and there was a good possibility they’d be seeking legal action.”
In Bluewater, local feelings are also aroused, said Councillor George Irvin in an interview.
Asked whether the council is simply trying to block wind farms, Irvin replied:
“I guess, yes. Our council except for the mayor and a deputy mayor and a farmer voted unanimously against wind turbines – and those three declared conflict of interest, because they’ve signed leases with various (wind) companies.”
“The majority of councilors in Huron and Bruce and Lambton are against it.”
Later, he backtracked somewhat:
“I don’t want to say we want to keep them out. But it would have been far better if the province had listened to the municipalities’ concerns”
He said local councilors had argued for bigger setbacks for turbines. Provincial rules say that turbines must be at least 500 metres from a dwelling; Irvin said Bluewater would have been “relatively comfortable” with a 1,500-metre setback.
Steve Stengel, a spokesman for NextEra, said the company wants to keep talking to residents and councils.
“This is an issue we believe strongly will work itself out,” Stengel said. “We will continue to work with both municipalities. We continue to believe that the law on this issue is on our side.”
Asked whether the new fees will make the wind projects too expensive to proceed with, he replied:
“We believe the law is on our side and the fees being proposed are not reasonable, not legal; we believe there will be a solution to this issue.”
“We still are planning to build both our Bluewater and East Durham projects,” he added “Both are slated to begin construction later this year, and we have not altered those plans.”
Stengel wouldn’t say what NextEra will do if the councils don’t back down.
“We are certainly open to discussions and plan to do that, but we’re looking at all of our options and I don’t want to speculate on what’s going to happen next,” he said.
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