Province rebuts allegations of opponents to wind and solar projects
Credit: Councillor, architect say the Green Energy Act has been so mishandled it is tearing communities apart; Province says it is a priority to ensure renewable energy protects the environment | By Mary Riley | Kawartha Lakes This Week | August 19, 2015 | www.mykawartha.com ~~
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KAWARTHA LAKES – As opposition to industrial wind and solar energy projects in the City of Kawartha Lakes continues to mount, the Province’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change maintains it is ensuring those projects are developed in a way that will protect the environment and boost Ontario’s economy.
But, Manvers Township residents who continue to fight large-scale industrial wind turbine farms say the public outcry against big solar panels in City fields reveals a better understanding of the entire green energy picture.
Ward 16 Councillor Heather Stauble has battled for years to prevent industrial wind farms from being built near Pontypool and Bethany, especially since some of those turbines would be built on the protected Oak Ridges Moraine.
Manvers Wind Concerns (MWC), one of the groups who appealed the approval of wpd Canada’s Sumac Ridge wind project in 2013 is waiting to hear the results of a ministerial review after losing an appeal of that approval at an Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) earlier this year.
But, two more industrial projects are planned by another company, Capstone Infrastructure Corporation, in the area.
Snowy Ridge wind farm was approved in June and opponents immediately began preparations for another legal challenge. The second project is Settler’s Landing.
Both projects would include building some of their 500-foot turbines on the moraine.
The primary reason residents are fighting so hard to keep mega-turbines out is the unknown impacts on the moraine; plants and wildlife, and the underground water aquifers and human health. Those concerns formed the basis of the Sumac Ridge ERT and remain the same for the other two projects.
Coun. Stauble noted some of the points opponents to the wind farms have raised such as inadequate setbacks, poorly completed water studies, noise impacts etc.
Coun. Stauble said a key point is the Province’s own environmental legislation prohibits building anything on the moraine, but “they are using the Green Energy Act to do whatever they want” and override existing laws.
Worse, she said, both wind and solar projects are being forced on Ontario municipalities, which have no say in where such projects can be built.
Earlier this month, City council refused to approve 10 proposed solar farm around the city, to the delight of residents who don’t want them in their backyards.
Amid cheers and applause at the meeting on Aug. 11, Mayor Andy Letham warned the Province could override the City’s position on solar farms.
Ron Awde, an architect experienced in wind technology whose property abuts the Snowy Ridge wind project, said those opposed to large-scale solar farms now have a better understanding of the fight against industrial wind turbines.
He’s hoping that will revive a flagging interest in the Snowy Ridge and Settler’s Landing appeals.
He and Coun. Stauble say it is the mishandling of the Green Energy Act that is at the core of wind and solar projects and how they affect municipalities, which ultimately have no say in where such projects are built.
Mr. Awde said the Province considers green energy to be an economic driver that will create jobs in Ontario, but that is not the case.
“The rollout on wind energy was based on old technology. The approval for Snowy Ridge makes direct reference to the importance of these projects to the economy of Ontario. There is now a general recognition that the total projected nine-per-cent contribution of wind power to the provincial power supply by 2032 doesn’t back up the claim that this will get Ontario off fossil fuels or nuclear power.”
Both Coun. Stauble and Mr. Awde noted the Green Energy Act represents a “horrifying” precedent in provincial legislation; alleging the energy companies “wrote the legislation and presented it to the Province.”
“At any point a majority government can draft a single piece of legislation that has been essentially prepared by a self-interested industry, that negates in part, or in whole all other provincial Acts and guidelines,” Mr. Awde noted.
Coun. Stauble emphasized it is not wind/solar energy itself that is the problem; she says many smaller wind turbines and solar panels are erected on private properties, put up by people who want to live off the grid.
The problem is industrial-sized operations.
Wind and solar energy is big business, she said, with companies rushing to build their projects and then “flipping” them to make money.
“The Snowy Ridge and Settler’s landing projects have been sold six times since 2009,” she said. “It’s a gold rush.”
The councillor and Mr. Awde said developers of both solar and wind energy “dangle the carrot” of good money before landowners to get desirable sites. But, that is what is dividing communities across the City.
And, it is unlikely the original developer will be around in 20 years to do any promised rehabilitation, Coun. Stauble added.
Both noted the ERT process itself, through which opponents of wind farm approvals must appeal, is deeply flawed, because the onus is on the appellants to prove their case, rather than the Province or the energy companies.
For example, Coun. Stauble said, the appellants must prove there ‘will’ be harm to the environment (rather than ‘could’ be).
And, while she respects the Tribunal panel are doing their best, they are restricted to specific criteria they may consider.
And, so far, Coun. Stauble said, the Province and the wind companies have won. On Aug. 11 the ERT dismissed an appeal of the 18-megawatt ZEP Wind Farm Ganaraska, to be built in the municipality of Clarington.
“The Tribunal was created by the Province; there is definitely the perception that they won’t decide against the Province and the wind companies,” she said. “The tragedy is there has been an enormous erosion of confidence in the MOE.”
Mr. Awde agreed. “The Province and the wind industry have crafted an appeal process so biased toward a single outcome favouring the developers, that it has become regarded as a cynical and elaborate scheme designed to discourage opposition from individuals and municipalities.”
This Week contacted the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change asking for comment on three questions:
1. Provincial legislation prohibits building anything on the Moraine, so how can industrial wind turbines be permitted?
2. The City of Kawartha Lakes has made it clear they do not want wind/solar farms in its communities; the opposition here is significant and residents feel this is being forced upon them. Could the Minister comment on that?
3. Many opponents feel the Environmental Review Tribunal process is flawed; that no matter how hard they fight, the decisions are always in the Province’s favour…there is a perception that there will never be a ruling against the Province.)
Minister Glen Murray is attending the AMO conference in Niagara Falls, but a spokesperson provided the following response:
“Ontario is establishing itself as a leader in climate change action and science to build a strong low-carbon economy, avoid irreparable damage to our environment, and leave a legacy of a healthy planet for our children and our children’s children.
“The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan allows utility facilities to be built on the moraine provided they meet the policies and restrictions outlined in the Plan. These include demonstrating the need for the project, and considering and assessing alternative site locations. The Environmental Review Tribunal plays an important role in the accountability and transparency of Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approval process, and has in the past overturned provincial approval of a project.
“Ontario’s clean energy initiatives have attracted billions of dollars in new investments, generated more than 42,000 jobs and significantly increased the amount of clean energy in the province. Our priority is ensuring renewable energy projects are developed in a way that will protect the natural environment. Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approval process requires developers to conduct extensive consultation, including with municipalities, and sets out clear requirements to protect the natural environment.”
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