Changes allowing municipalities to have more say in large-scale renewable energy projects such as wind farms are too late for two Niagara municipalities.
“It’s really disappointing,” Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs said after hearing Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli talk about changes to the way the province goes about renewable enegy development.
Under than plan Chiarelli rolled out May 30 at the Solar 2013 Conference in Niagara Falls was an initiative which would see municipalities take a more active roles in prijects which would produce more that 500 kilowatts of power. The new process is to replace the current large project process under the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program. Energy planners and developers will now be required to work directly with municipalities to select appropriate and locations and site requirements. Part of the plan will also be to increase property tax assessments on wind turbines.
The catch is that the changes will only apply to new projects, which means proposed Wainfleet and West Lincoln wind farms are not included. Those projects call for a combined 77 wind turbines to be built by the Niagara Region Wind Corp. in Wainfleet, West Lincoln and Haldimand County and have been the subject of controversey in all three municipalities.
“It’s really nothing but the potential for higher taxes which I guess its something but I don’t think that constituents really care,” Jeffs said.
“West Lincoln rejected the vibrancy fund and in Wainfleet, we haven’t had a full discussion about it but I know some of our constituents have said they don’t care, the don’t care about incentives or anything. They’re that oppose, they’re that concerned about the health effects and property and property devaluation.
Chiarelli also announced that the Small FIT program (10 to 500MW) would be revised to make projects partnered or led by municipalities priority and provide funding to help small- and medium-sized municipalities develop municipal energy plans focused on conservation and helping to identify the best infrastructure options for the community.
“We’re creating a separate stream of procurement, which will likely be an RFP (Request for Proposals) process,” Chiarelli said in a news conference after his announcement. “And the terms of the RFP will be designed in such a way as to require the proponents, developers to come in with a very high degree of acceptance by a municipality. … The bottom line is the contract will not be awarded unless there’s a high degree of engagement and connection to the municipality.”
That’s a big difference from the current method when proposals were brought to the government before any work had been done in terms of siting plans or consultation with a municipality.
In addressing projects which have already been approved, Chirarelli said breaking those contracts would be costly as it was when the provincial government decided shortly before the 2011 election to cancel contracts for gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. The cancellation has cost the province $585 million.
“We have people now who have existing contracts to do large FIT and we do not have the authority to cancel those contracts in contract law and so we would be exposed to very, very significant damages,” Chiarelli said. “We cannot continue to do what was done in Oakville and Mississauga. Cancelling a contract and then having to deal with the legal and cost consequences of cancellation.”
West Lincoln resident Catherine Mitchell said the Township has “been denied the opportunity to participate in the process of determining the future of our community. We have been denied meaningful involvement in this top down inflicted wind energy project. Consultation does not exist.”
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