A town councillor from North Perth is making the rounds of Ontario’s rural municipalities to drum up support for a coalition that would challenge the province over noise from wind turbines.
“Municipalities do not have the power to prohibit green energy activities, but they do have the power to regulate, if it’s done properly,” Warren Howard told Norfolk County council on Tuesday.
He was referring to the province’s Green Energy Act, which municipalities have claimed does not give local governments enough of a say in where renewable energy projects like solar and wind farms are located.
Howard argues that the Municipal Act empowers local councils to ensure their citizens enjoy “quiet nights” free of “public nuisances” like barking dogs or loud music.
To that end, Howard said his proposed coalition would collectively draft a noise bylaw banning “clearly audible” noises – such as the low hum of wind turbines – during set hours. Exemptions would be made for farming activities, emergency vehicles and other necessary sounds.
While Howard said wind turbines would likely not be mentioned by name in the bylaw, they are clearly its main target.
“You can’t prohibit all wind turbines, all the time,” Howard said. “But you can heavily regulate them. Municipalities can have a higher standing.”
The vision is for the participating municipalities to share legal costs in drafting and defending a noise bylaw that could be adapted to suit each municipality’s specific needs, he added.
The cost to draft the bylaw is estimated at between $30,000 and $50,000, with an additional $250,000 in court costs to defend against expected challenges from the province and wind companies.
Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss have signed onto the project, with Howard’s own municipality of North Perth close to joining as well. Howard said he has received “pretty strong interest” from other municipalities with wind turbine projects.
However, the low number of confirmed participants in the coalition left some councillors worried that Norfolk would be on the hook for a significant legal bill if and when the proposed bylaw is challenged in court.
“Right now, it’s a coalition of two,” said Coun. Jim Oliver, adding that it would be “premature” for the county to get involved.
Oliver was skeptical that a noise bylaw would work in a rural area, since combines and irrigation systems makes as much or more noise than wind turbines, and they often run at night as well.
“It isn’t as simple as that in an area like this that relies heavily on agriculture,” he said.
Mayor Dennis Travale noted that Norfolk’s bylaw officers currently do not work at night or on weekends, and would need extra training to regulate noise. But Howard said the intent isn’t to train and equip bylaw officers with expensive sound meters.
“Keeping enforcement as simple as possible is clearly the objective here,” he said. “Can you hear (the noise)? Is it clearly audible?”
After years of frustration that green energy projects are foisted upon the county despite Norfolk being an “unwilling host,” Coun. Charlie Luke said the proposed noise bylaw could be one way to fight back.
“This is something we could do,” Luke said.
However, Coun. Harold Sonnenberg doubted a bylaw could circumvent the province’s green energy aims.
“Are you being realistic in thinking you’re going to shut down this energy source for a third of the day?” he asked.
Councillors voted to seek legal opinion before deciding whether to join the coalition.
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