Quiet nights: Coalition of municipalities seek to protect health and safety of residents near industrial wind turbines
It’s a simple plan. But it may be just the thing to slow down the epidemic of industrial wind turbines spreading across rural Ontario. Warren Howard is a councillor in the municipality of North Perth and lives in Listowel. He is a retired banker and understands bureaucratic processes better than most. He thinks he has come up with a way to thwart the provinces heavy handed Green Energy Act (GEA).
Howard’s plan is to create a bulletproof municipal bylaw that prohibits industrial noise in a rural area at night. That’s it. It sounds simple—and it is—but Howard has done his homework.
He has been working with municipal lawyer Kristi Ross. Together they have discovered that while the Green Energy Act took away virtually all the municipality’s tools to manage, control and oversee the construction of these massive structures in its community—it left intact provisions municipalities use to govern nuisance noise.
Howard believes any municipality may be able use these provisions to stop industrial wind development in its jurisdiction. He is looking to form a coalition of like-minded municipalities to jointly fund the crafting of a noise bylaw that will be enforceable and effective in discouraging industrial wind energy development, but won’t capture and impede other activities that may generate noise—such as agricultural operations.
It’s a fine line. Howard knows it. But he believes it can work.
Municipal bylaws can’t overtly defy or block provincial initiatives. So the Quiet Nights plan doesn’t seek to prevent turbines from making noise—it wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge. Instead the bylaw would only prohibit the machines from making noise at night. Further, the Municipal Act states that such a bylaw, if enacted in good faith by council, is not subject to a review by a court.
Howard points to a decision in Wainfleet in the Niagara region. There, the municipality was seeking twokilometre setbacks rather than the 500-metre setbacks prescribed in the GEA.
The wind energy developer had argued that the municipality’s efforts to protect the health and safety of residents should have no force because they frustrate the purpose of the province’s GEA. But while the Superior Court justice disallowed Wainfleet’s desired setbacks, it confirmed that municipalities retain the right to regulate noise nuisance in the Municipal Act.
It is through this narrow opening that Howard is hoping to lead municipalities seeking to control or limit the industrialization of their rural communities.
To do this, he is looking to raise about $250,000—$50,000 to write an airtight bylaw and about $200,000 for a court decision. Rather than wait for a challenge that is sure to come, the coalition would refer the issue to the court for a ruling.
Howard has already received a $30,000 pledge from the municipality of Kincardine. He is expecting contributions too from the municipalities of Bluewater, Saugeen Shores and Lambton Shores. He was in the County last week looking for a pledge from this council.
He got a rather cool response.
Councillor Brian Marisett, a proponent of industrial wind energy, said crafting a workable noise bylaw would be controversial. He doubted agricultural noise could effectively be exempted.
“If you say noise harms, how do you allow any noise?” said Marisett.
Councillor Terry Shortt, too, expressed misgivings that an effective noise bylaw could be crafted that wouldn’t impede other activities.
“It could come back to haunt us,” said Shortt.
Howard urged the council committee that this was an opportunity to get out in front of the issue, rather than complaining after the fact.
But there seemed little enthusiasm for his plan or urgency for action. The committee asked for a report on the implications of a contribution to the coalition. That report is expected in May.
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