PLYMPTON-WYOMING – A legal challenge from Suncor Energy has prompted town council to back away from a noise bylaw the municipality enacted last year to limit local wind farm development.
Suncor, a developer behind the 46-turbine Cedar Point wind project under construction in Lambton Shores, Plympton-Wyoming and Warwick Township, recently filed a court application to quash Plympton-Wyoming’s bylaw, said town clerk Brianna Coughlin.
The municipal legislation sought, among other things, to limit wind turbine-produced noise lower than 20 hertz – infrasound: the normal limit of human hearing. Wind turbine opponents argue exposure can negatively impact people’s health.
Complying with the bylaw would have made it impossible to operate the 100-MW wind farm, expected to be operational by late 2015, Suncor spokesperson Jason Vaillant said Thursday.
“We are committed to complying with and operating within the limits that are set out for us by the province,” he said, noting noise limits for wind farms are provincial territory. “And we felt that the municipality just didn’t have jurisdiction on this particular matter.”
Based on legal advice that the town’s bylaw would likely not survive a court challenge, council decided Wednesday to repeal it, Coughlin said.
Suncor, Vaillant said, is pleased with the decision and will withdraw its legal challenge.
“Certainly the relationship with the community is important to us,” he said. “We know that this project will be part of the community for 20 years or more, so we want to ensure that we develop and operate the project in a way that addresses the needs and concerns of Plympton-Wyoming.”
It’s not the first Plympton-Wyoming wind turbine bylaw that’s been shelved. Last year, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled in Suncor’s favour when it took Plympton-Wyoming to court over bylaws attempting to limit where wind turbines could be built, and setting fees that included a $200,000 per turbine deposit. The company also turned to the court in the fall after efforts to take out building permits in Plympton-Wyoming stalled.
Asked if town council will try to pass a new bylaw, Coughlin said it’s not clear.
“At this point there has been no direction to put another one forward, or work on another one,” she said.
Santo Giorno, a spokesperson with activist group We’re Against Industrial Turbines Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW), said seeing the bylaw repealed is disappointing.
“But with the regulatory environment that we’re working in, it really left council with very little choice,” he said.
Health Canada study results released last year found no direct link between wind turbines and human health.
But there are still unanswered questions, Giorno argued, pointing to a study from Australia that he said found damaging effects from low-frequency noise and infrasound.
“This isn’t a dead issue,” he said. “I’ve already had communication from a number of people around the province saying we’ve got to start working on crafting a generic bylaw that’s bullet-proof.”
Giorno called Plympton-Wyoming’s bylaw “ahead of its time.
“The scientific data hasn’t quite caught up yet, and the knowledge in the government and regulatory bodies hasn’t quite caught up,” he said.