Municipalities working with wind developers, under a new approach Ontario announced recently, could create setback distances for future wind farms greater than the province’s 550-metre minimum, according to the Energy Ministry.
Wind energy opponents have said 550 metres isn’t enough distance between turbines and neighbouring homes.
Some municipalities, including Plympton-Wyoming, have passed bylaws calling for a two-kilometre setback.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli has spoken about setbacks, following his earlier announcement of changes designed to give municipalities more say in where, and how, large wind and solar farms are built.
“That could include greater setbacks – as long as our minimum standards are maintained,” Chiarelli’s press secretary Beckie Codd-Downey wrote in a followup e-mail.
She added Ontario “has some of the toughest setback standards for wind turbines in North America” and its 550-metre minimum is consistent with recommendations from the World Health Organization.
“We rely on our experts for these decisions,” Codd-Downey wrote.
Chiarelli announced that Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program for awarding contracts for large renewable energy projects will be replaced with a new competitive procurement process. Companies wanting to develop wind and solar farms will now be required to work directly with municipalities, before they seek a contract to sell power to the province.
“It will be very, very difficult for a developer to be approved without municipal engagement, in some significant way,” Chiarelli said.
The changes don’t impact wind projects that already have a FIT contract. They include large wind farms Suncor and Nextera are planning for Lambton Shores, Plympton-Wyoming and Warwick Township.
A growing number of municipal council, including several in Lambton County, are passing resolutions declaring themselves unwilling hosts for wind farms.
Municipalities objected to how Ontario took away local planning controls for green energy projects in 2009, and several mayors have said wind farms are dividing their communities.
“As a former mayor, I understand in a very significant way the concerns that have been expressed from the municipal sector,” Chiarelli said.
“The new procurement will take into account, and pay due respect to, municipalities.”
A new premier and his appointment as energy minister, were factors in the decision to make changes, according to Chiarelli.
“Communities spoke, mayors spoke, we listened,” he said.
“It was time to do some significant fine-tuning of the system.”
It will take time before the new process for approving large wind and solar projects is up and running, according to Chiarelli.
“We expect that we would not be able to do the large FIT-replacement procurement before the end of this year.”
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