In the summer of 2002, Mayor James Taylor signed a bylaw that would mark the beginning of a conflict that continues to churn through this community 12 years later.
It wasn’t exactly the County’s first brush with industrial wind turbines. Council had rejected an earlier project, by just a single vote, that would have seen industrial wind turbines raised over Hillier.
But the proposal by Vision Quest, a subsidiary of TransAlta, to build as many as 32 turbines between Royal Road and Army Reserve Road in South Marysburgh was different. In 2002, municipalities still had the authority to decide where, how many and even if such industrial wind energy projects would be built in its communities.
That all changed with the Green Energy Act in 2009—when municipal planning authority, many other regulatory safeguards and protections were taken away by the provincial government to ease the development path for the industrialization wind energy developers.
Unlike the Hillier proposal, the Royal Roads project was off the beaten path. Council reasoned that industrial wind turbines were likely inevitable and feared the County would be frowned upon by provincial officials if it refused another wind energy project.
Despite bitter resistance, council approved the Vision Quest plan. It had been a bitter fight—neighbours fighting neighbours. Some moved on—unable to live with the prospect of industrial wind turbines swirling overhead and the broken relationships in the rural community.
Bill Wightman, a veteran of the Hillier resistance efforts, decided he would lead the effort to appeal council’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Wightman was joined in the action by 20 individuals, as well as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the South Shore Conservancy.
Last month, the group learned they won.
“The Board orders that the appeals are allowed and Official Plan Amendment 14 of Prince Edward County is not approved” wrote OMB vice chair J.R. McKenzie.
In so doing he brought an end to a legal fight that never made it to court or hearing room.
Lawyers were engaged on both sides, arguments forged and documents compiled. A pre-hearing was scheduled, but adjourned at the request of the developer.
The OMB urged both sides to attempt to narrow the issues—it was disinclined to consider vast arguments for and against industrial wind turbines and renewable energy.
The two sides met and agreed to do their best to do as the OMB has asked, but as a prehearing date neared, Vision Quest asked for and received an adjournment—effectively putting the process and project on hold.
There it lay in an uneasy dormancy for more than a decade.
In the meantime, the project was sold to Vector Wind Energy, which later sold it to Canadian Hydro Developers. In 2009, Canadian Hydro was itself acquired by none other than TransAlta. The Royal Road project had been shuffled through so many hands it was back in the arms of its original proponent.
Last month, the OMB reported the developer was no longer interested in pursuing the application related to the Official Plan amendment, and found in favour of Wightman and the 22 other appellants.
Wightman wasn’t celebrating the victory. The Green Energy Act removed municipal planning and the OMB from the approvals process years ago. TransAlta, if it chooses to resurrect this project, will instead queue up with other developers seeking a Renewable Energy Approval. It no longer answerable to County council.
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