A few weeks after the province approved a wind energy project in Clearview Township, sparking an appeal, Ontario’s energy minister said municipalities will soon be asked for input ahead of future decisions.
“There was a problem with particular large wind and solar farms. There was not enough of an alignment of what they were doing and what the municipalities wanted,” said Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli.
“We are in the process now… It involves much more communication with the municipality. It (will be) almost impossible for (contractors) to win a contract without having participation with a municipality.”
Chiarelli clarified that “participation” referred to approval from a municipality, adding all contractors will be required to show proof they consulted municipalities.
One wind energy and 13 solar projects have been approved in Simcoe County, according to the provincial Renewable Energy Projects Listing.
The Clearview project is the only wind farm. There are five solar energy projects in Springwater Township (three of which are in Midhurst), four in Tay Township (three of which are in Waubaushene), three in Orillia, and one in Oro-Medonte.
Chiarelli said he expects the ministry to announce more projects “in a month or two.”
Springwater Township Mayor Bill French said he has noticed the province has slowly started asking municipalities for more input on solar and wind projects in the past year.
They have been asked to use a scoring system to rank their support for proposed projects, he said.
“We always thought there should be a final approval process at the municipal level. It should’ve always been that way,” he said. “We’re quite welcome to that change in legislation.”
French said the township has been concerned when “fairly good agricultural land” was chosen as the location for solar farms.
“The ones that are approved, you can’t turn back the clock on those ones,” he said, adding once municipalities are more involved, Springwater will likely approve energy projects in areas with steep slopes or on smaller properties.
“Multi-acre ones, that’s going to be much more of a challenge,” he said. “We have acres and acres of rooftops around. That’s where solar panels belong.”
Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper said she has heard the promise of more municipal involvement from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“I’m hopeful. I just have not seen it thus far,” she said. “Municipalities have been sending the message for quite some time – we need to be part of the process.”
Cooper and the rest of Collingwood council voted last month to legally oppose plans to build a wind farm with eight turbines west of Stayner, near the Collingwood Regional Airport. The town is concerned about the possibility of a plane hitting a turbine.
Cooper said the province made a “snap decision” to approve a wind farm despite of this possibility.
By allowing municipalities more say in the approval process, they can help stop decisions that may negatively affect residents, said Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes.
For example, a couple in the township built a home about five years ago that ended up being surrounded by a solar farm, he said.
“If municipalities had a say in it, that would never have happened,” he said. “Residents expect their municipal council to have some protection for their property.”
When municipalities are more involved, they can demand companies complete up-to-date soil testing to avoid solar projects taking up quality agricultural land, he added.
The province also does not require companies to repair local roads if damage is caused by solar or wind projects, but some have anyway in Oro-Medonte, said Hughes.
The company that constructed a solar farm just south of Edgar did not make such an agreement, he said.
“We had a road that was probably paved five or six years ago. They’ve done a considerable amount of damage to it and we’re still trying to get money from that with no success,” he said.
“Everybody supports the notion of having renewable energy. The pushback has been from the manner in which it’s conducted.”
– With files from John Edwards
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