The parameters of a proposed wind turbine cost recovery bylaw continued to be debated by Huron East councillors at their Nov. 5 meeting.
Councillors debated the issue while municipal staff members insisted that determining what should be billed to wind turbine companies was not an easy distinction to make.
They have been debating the bylaw for several meetings, while Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight said he felt the discussion was premature, as the wind turbine process is still ongoing. He told councillors he felt once the turbines were up, and operational, then council could look back and establish which costs would be reasonable to attempt to bill back to a wind turbine company (council is currently dealing with NextEra Energy and St. Columban Wind Energy).
One councillor, Allison Dekroon, however, disagreed with Knight, saying that she felt council needed to have its ‘ducks in a row’ prior to the turbines being erected.
At the meeting, Knight provided councillors with a lengthy report detailing costs that have been incurred by the municipality associated with wind turbines and staff time that has been allotted to the subject.
As a rough starting point, Knight told councillors, he has calculated over $32,000 in legal costs associated with wind turbine projects since 2010.
Beyond legal costs, however, Knight told councillors that additional costs, such as staff time, will be hard to quantify going forward.
Knight also told councillors about what wind turbine companies are legally bound to agree to, which, he said, is not much.
Turbine companies are not bound by any law to agree to a cost recovery bylaw, a road-user agreement or a community vibrancy fund, which had been mentioned in one of NextEra’s early presentations to council. In fact, he said, the only fee the turbine company is legally required to pay to the host municipality is the building permit for the turbine.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan said that some municipalities have realized this and attempted to institute exorbitant building permit fees (one example he gave was $25,000 per wind turbine), which have not held up in court.
Knight said there would have to be extensive discussion on cost recovery, where the right legal costs would have to be billed back to the corresponding turbine project. He also said the argument could be made by a wind turbine company, that costs such as staff time, research and open houses, to name a few, follow the normal course of a development in the municipality.
Knight also said that council would have to decide when to start billing staff time, if that’s the route councillors wanted to take.
“Do you go back and bill starting with [former Chief Administrative Officer Jack McLachlan’s] first phone call? I don’t think that’s the case,” Knight said.
As discussion continued to get more pointed and specific, Knight suggested that if council were to go any further, the issue should perhaps be discussed in a closed-to-the-public session.
Dekroon told Knight that she wanted to discuss the issue in public, to which Knight responded, “I don’t.”
Other councillors then came to Knight’s defense, saying that they too felt the issue shouldn’t go any further in open session.
Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler said that council needed to trust in its administration, saying that councillors don’t examine and second guess every pound of gravel laid by the Huron East Public Works Department and its director Barry Mills.
Dekroon, however, insisted that it was important that all councillors were on the same page in terms of the turbine issue.
“We need to decide what page we’re on, because it seems like we’re on two different pages,” she said, adding that she was not attempting to “criticize” Knight or the work of the staff.
She said she simply felt the bylaw was too vague at this stage in the game.
“We have to talk about it,” she said, to which Knight responded by saying that council will first have to define what cost recovery means to the municipality.
He said, for example, that staff members and councillors have attended a lot of public meetings and open houses related to wind turbines. Those people were not directed or required to be at those meetings, but they went anyway, to build their intelligence on the subject, so then is that billable to the turbine company under the proposed bylaw, Knight asked.
“As councillors, we have to do our own research,” said Councillor Diane Diehl. “That’s just for your own knowledge. Every time you pick up a pen or pick up the phone, that doesn’t mean you can bill it back to [wind turbine companies].”
Knight told councillors that they didn’t have to make a motion at the Nov. 5 meeting, but the report was simply to let councillors know where staff was at the moment.
Dekroon, however, said the decision on whether to proceed with a motion was the councillors’ and not Knight’s and she attempted to make a motion in regards to when council should send their cost recovery bill to the wind turbine companies.
Dekroon then made a motion stating that the municipality will bill the companies immediately and continuously as the projects go on. The motion was defeated nine votes to two.
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