LINDSAY – If you want to bring green energy to the City of Kawartha Lakes, don’t try sneaking it in the back door.
That message came through loud and clear at City Hall on Tuesday (Aug. 11), as council unanimously quashed 10 solar farms proposed around the City.
The chair of a group opposed to wind energy projects in Manvers Township is urging residents to congratulate Mayor Andy Letham and his council for their leadership after they refused to approve the solar farms.
And, council also voted to join the fight against a second wind turbine project planned near Bethany.
In an email, Paul Reid of Manvers Wind Concerns said, “This council gets it.”
Residents opposed to solar farms planned in their neighbourhoods packed council chambers as the energy company representatives sought municipal support for 10 separate projects.
Part of the process for provincial approval for wind and solar farms requires the companies to acquire points for possible contracts, and gaining support from the City and neighbouring residents of their proposed projects increases their chances of getting that approval.
The companies have a deadline of Sept. 1, prompting a rush at City Hall.
While a municipality does not have the final say (as Mayor Letham warned the crowd), council did what they could; one councillor noted, “We have enough solar farms.”
Council heard from several solar energy companies’ representatives who cited their experience and the processes they conducted to find appropriate sites. All of them promised to address concerns about aesthetics, including doing the required landscaping to improve the visual impact of the panels, and several offered “community enhancement” money.
But, an additional six deputations were permitted from residents opposed, not only to the solar farms but the way the process evolved. This Week has covered the issue in recent weeks, and most of the residents included in those stories were also present on Tuesday.
Their concerns include the visual aesthetics, possible decrease in property values and potential harm to the environment. All told council they moved to the area for its beauty and quiet – not to have solar panels in their backyards.
But, many were upset that the companies approached individual landowners without their knowledge.
Several people said they had no inkling that a solar farm could be built in their community until they heard it through “rumours and word of mouth.” Others complained the dates for public meetings the companies held kept changing, or company representatives could not answer their questions or did not respond to emails.
Council heard that neighbouring residents were not consulted by solar companies; a point Mr. Reid also raised about wind farms. Several councillors, as well, chastised the companies for not approaching the City’s planning department first.
“Council as a whole gets it…..suggesting to these companies that they approach council before signing up landowners, rather than after,” Mr. Reid wrote.
Mike Nicholls, a young builder opposed to the Mount Pleasant solar farm on Hayes Line, said the solar farm sites were hastily chosen in a race to meet the Sept. 1 deadline. He spoke of a young family whose property would be right across the road from the site, potentially taking a significant decrease in value – a decrease “that could pay for their one-year-old daughter’s college education.”
Mr. Nicholls said the company representatives should have stood in the couple’s living room to visualize the solar farm and its impact on the property.
One resident supported a solar farm near Kirkfield, saying her late husband supported solar energy, and the farm would have no negative impact as the land is rocky, unsuitable for pasture “and, my neighbours are all cows.”
Sturgeon Point resident Graham Martin said he did not move to the Kawartha Lakes to deal with the solar farm’s eight-foot high fences and security cameras.
Liza Hancock, whose property abuts the Portage Road solar project, said loggerhead shrikes were plentiful in her area for eight years, until a solar farm was built. The birds have not been seen since 2012.
Later in the meeting, residents waited as Mayor Letham went through each solar farm application in turn. None received council support, and the chamber erupted with applause at the conclusion of the voting.
But, Mayor Letham told the crowd that while the City has not supported the projects, the Province has the final say. Ward 6 Coun. Doug Elmslie agreed, saying the Province “can trump the City”, and Ward 2 Coun. Emmett Yeo urged residents to “take the fight upstairs.”
At the same meeting, council also voted to support Manvers Township residents as the City has been granted status at the upcoming Environmental Review Tribunal, which will hear an appeal of the Snowy Ridge wind energy project next month.
In his email, Mr. Reid said the solar farm issue has helped residents to understand what opponents to wind turbines have been battling for years – what he described as “the carpet bombing of our countryside.”
“This a huge support to local residents and expresses council’s solidarity with the principles behind our protest,” he wrote of council’s support of the Snowy Ridge hearing. “I must say that it was a relief to see people from Omemee, Fenelon Falls, Sturgeon Point, and beyond. This assault against the City by the Province is no longer just a Manvers problem.”
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