Wind energy company threatens to take its case to Ontario Energy Board to move Sumac Ridge Wind Farm forward
(KAWARTHA LAKES) A wind energy company says a refusal by the City of Kawartha Lakes to discuss the placement of collector lines for a controversial wind turbine project in Manvers Township could force the company to ask the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to intervene – and the City may have to pay for the hearing.
But, if that happens, Ward 16 Councillor Heather Stauble says Manvers Township residents are ready to fight.
The OEB is the independent Crown corporation that regulates the province’s electricity and natural gas sectors.
A City staff report states the Sumac Ridge Wind Farm is a proposed 10.25 MW wind energy project that has met with fierce opposition from Manvers Township residents. The report states the current design uses five 2.05 MW wind turbines with a maximum capacity of 11.5 MW.
Two of the turbines are located in the Oak Ridges Moraine, which means the entire project must be considered under the Moraine legislation.
The proposed commercial operation date is July 24, 2014. The operating footprint of the site is 4.52 hectares. However, the site comprises several separate parcels of privately owned land in the former Manvers Township..
The approximate boundaries of the project are Highway 7A to the north, Ballyduff Road to the south, and between Highway 35 and Porter Road.
The Province is currently reviewing the company’s application, but no approvals have yet been granted.
In a press release issued May 22, wpd Canada stated it “has proposed to install part of the collector lines (which link the turbines and carry electricity produced to the project’s transformer substation) – under portions of Gray Road. The release states wpd has “begun the permit process for the work to proceed should the project be granted approval by the Ministry of the Environment. A letter dated April 22, 2013 from the City of Kawartha Lakes Planning Department denies wpd’s request, due to council’s opposition to the project.”
The release also suggests that the City is breaking the law by refusing to process the application in good faith.
“In response to a letter from the Land Management Committee, wpd’s legal counsel stated, ‘Simply put, the City cannot refuse to process wpd’s permit application because Council is opposed to the project. The City has a duty to process the application in good faith as it would any other permit application. The refusal to do so is also inconsistent with provincial law that provides wpd with a right to access Gray Road for the purpose of constructing a collector line for the Project.'”
Coun. Stauble and her constituents are determined to keep wind turbines out of Manvers Township. In an interview on May 24, she said she was not impressed with the comments in the press release.
“Sounds like a threat to me,” she said. “wpd is very presumptuous to think they’re going to automatically get the Province’s approvals.”
Coun. Stauble said the reason opposition is so strong against wind energy projects is because there has not been enough study done on the possible adverse health effects of wind turbines and the impact of the turbines on the environment, including wildlife and a negative impact on property values.
During the MOE’s recent public comment period on wpd’s application (which closed last month) she said more than 2,500 people responded.
“I’m not sure if the MOE has ever had that many [on an issue],” she said. “I’m sure they won’t take it lightly.”
In February, several residents appeared at a special council meeting to oppose the project. At that meeting, staff recommended that council ask the Province to refuse wpd Canada’s application. Director of planning and engineering Ron Taylor clarified that energy companies apply to the Province under a provincial process; council does not approve the application, but may express concerns. A municipal council may offer support for an application, or ask the Province to refuse it.
Coun. Stauble challenged the claim several wind energy companies have pitched to council; that there would be an economic benefit to the City if wind energy projects were supported.
“They come in, say they want to work with the community…and they throw around figures of millions of dollars that will come to the City. But, the money we’re talking is not going to create permanent jobs here. Most of it is construction costs.”
The financial benefit, she said, is only to the private landowners who sign the leases, allowing the turbines to be built on their land.
She noted the Sumac Ridge project involves five “huge” wind turbines; the three proposed wind farms for the area (two, Sumac and Snowy Ridge are wpd Canada projects) will have 15 turbines.
“They are 45 storeys high. To give you an idea of size, Toronto only has 35 buildings that are taller than that.”
Coun. Stauble said there is no denying that property values near wind farms plummet. “That means the municipality will take a hit in property taxes, because these properties would be devalued.”
On Monday (May 27), Mr. Taylor confirmed by email what happened after the City received wpd’s application for a permit.
“Staff reviewed the request through the City’s Land Management Committee, and subsequently advised wpd that the application was premature. wpd has not received any Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the Province to date. The City has since been in receipt of follow up correspondence from wpd challenging the City’s position, dated May 22, 2013. We have referred this correspondence to our solicitor to obtain a legal opinion.”
He added there may be some confusion; that wpd is looking for approval to access Gray Road, but that request has not yet come before council.
wpd noted the company doesn’t need the City’s approval, “but it is customary for municipalities and developers to agree upon the location.”
In the release, wpd Canada president Ian MacRae said, “We had hoped to work with the City of Kawartha Lakes on this issue in a co-operative setting, and it is unfortunate that it has come to this point…If the City would reconsider, it would avoid the necessity of bringing the matter to the Ontario Energy Board. This can be a costly method to resolve the issue.”
Coun. Stauble’s response to that is the residents are ready.
She said the residents in Manvers realize there could be a legal challenge and are prepared. “They’ve been putting money aside in case that happens,” she said. “But, they shouldn’t have to.”
In the release, Mr. MacRae said the company hopes to work with the City “to obtain the permits we need, but we need to consider all of our options to move our project forward.”
On Friday (May 31) the Province announced changes to its controversial green energy program, granting municipalities more say over future wind and solar projects.
In a press release, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said that wind and solar developers will now have to go through a new process and will be required to work with municipalities before they can apply for approval from the Ontario Power Authority (OPA).
The feed-in-tariff (FIT) program is being replaced by a competitive procurement process. Developers who successfully partner with a municipality will be given top priority for approval, while others who are unsuccessful in swaying municipalities to be willing hosts will be less likely to be granted approval.
Prior to this announcement, the FIT program allowed developers to apply directly to the OPA, with communities having little to know say into the project approval process – which has caused a rift between several municipalities and the province. While the changes will give municipalities a greater voice over industrial wind and solar projects, they won’t be granted veto power.
But, Coun. Stauble said it is till unclear as to what that means for municipalities, because they have no authority to ask for independent peer reviews and site plan control.
“These companies come before councils and tell them what they want them to hear; information that comes from the companies’ consultants,” she said. “We have no authority to ask for our own information…so we don’t know yet what [today’s announcement] means for us.”
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