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Municipalities not equipped to handle wind farm proposals: C-K mayor

Many Ontario municipalities have been demanding a much greater voice over the controversial approval process for large wind and solar projects.

“The province granted that wish Thursday,” Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope told The Chatham Daily News. “Now let’s see how they deal with it.

Hope said prior to the Green Energy Act taking effect, Chatham-Kent had its own processes and procedures in place to deal with wind turbine and solar projects.

“Once that authority was taken away from us by the province it actually saved us time and money and allowed us to deal with other important issues,” he said.

Hope said a number of municipal officials have been demanding a return of the authority to the local level.

“Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for,” he said. “It will definitely be interesting to see how municipalities deal with this new-found authority.”

The location of wind and solar projects have pitted communities and neighbours against each other across Ontario and Premier Kathleen Wynne had promised she would enhance local input.

Hope he welcomes the province’s revamping of the approval process.

“But I’m curious to see how municipalities that have been demanding this control will now handle it,” he said.

As for Chatham-Kent, a leader in the province in green energy, Hope said he doesn’t think the change in government policy will have any major bearing on the municipality.

“The fact is no municipalities are really equipped to deal with this matter,” he said. “But because of the policy change, the municipalities won’t be able to blame others – they will have to be accountable for their own actions.”

The mayor said it was the municipalities that forced the government to take the decision making out of their hands.

“I can’t help but smile knowing the responsibility is now back in the hands of the municipalities,” he said. “And I doubt most will be able to deal with it – they got their wish.”

Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announced Thursday the ministry is cancelling the feed-in-tariff (FIT) program for major renewable projects and replacing it with a competitive procurement process that will require developers to work with municipalities before they seek approval from the Ontario Power Authority.

Under the existing process, a proponent can go directly to the OPA.

The ministry was also expected to announce plans to work with municipalities to increase property taxes paid on wind turbine towers.

The FIT program will continue for micro and small renewable projects and priority points will be awarded to renewable projects that are led by or partnered with municipalities.

“They will have a much stronger voice in all of the significant energy projects,” said Chiarelli. “Communities spoke, mayors spoke and we listened.”

Funding will be made available to help municipalities draw up local energy plans on a voluntary basis. Such planning would be used in the procurement process for large renewable energy projects to ensure they land in willing communities where the power is needed and can be easily hooked up to the transmission grid.

“We believe that process will result in a much higher level of buy-in and participation by municipalities,” said Chiarelli.

He said most of the challenges and problems, almost all, have to do with wind.

Many municipalities have complained that under the Green Energy Act they lost control over where large wind farms and other projects were placed in their communities.

While Wynne has not offered municipal government a veto over projects, she has committed to provide them with a stronger role in the approval process.

With files from QMI Agency