Prince Edward County council has deferred its decision on a Road Users Agreement (RUA) with industrial wind turbine developer White Pines, wpd Canada, to its April 26 council meeting.
The decision was made before a packed gallery at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting to allow time for councillors to digest new information from Mayor Robert Quaiff and review details from the agreement they have not seen.
The deferral motion, made by councillor Steve Ferguson, and seconded by the mayor, also allows legal council and senior staff to provide text changes within the proposed agreement.
Councillors want legal council to investigate research the mayor completed with a friend on FIT (Feed-in-tariff) dates and extensions that they feel, because milestone dates to be operational have not been reached, could show wpd and the other south shore project by Gilead Power “are so close to having their contracts cancelled.”
Using numerous dates in his report, Quaiff believes wpd would have until June 2016 to be complete and connected to the grid.
“Bottom line is I think that the terms of the FIT contract creates an opportunity to fight this project on a new level,” said Quaiff, noting he will give a copy to the County’s solicitor to investigate the findings.
“The Auditor General has stated that FIT contracts like the one for White Pines cost double what is being paid in other juridictions. My reading of the FIT contract suggests that the performance of wind is bad, and the opposition of the local group has been so effective that it has created an opportunity for the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) to get out of the contract with very little exposure to legal costs. It is not as if the province needs the generating capacity at this time,” said Quaiff.
Quaiff spoke briefly of his work since joining council to fight turbines in the County, of meetings with local politicians and broken promises of meetings from the province. “Everything combined has such a distasteful distrust with me. I don’t trust the Green Energy Act and I don’t trust that the RUA will not be used in their favour.” His comments sparked thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the gallery.
A Community Benefits Agreement was also on the agenda until it was withdrawn last week by wpd Canada president Ian MacRae after reading several press reports “so that council can focus their deliberations on the road use agreement which is the time sensitive matter.”
Earlier in the meeting, Quaiff officially withdrew his “bribe and blood money” comments made in a letter to fellow councillors, and shared by local news media before last week’s meeting was cancelled due to freezing rain.
“I realize that those comments are not correct,” said Quaiff. “But my opposition nonetheless, remains and I continue to believe that industrial wind turbines should not be allowed in municipalities that are not willing hosts and especially here in Prince Edward County.”
Wayne Fairbrother, the County’s solicitor, told council and the full gallery of mostly opponents to turbines on the County’s south shore, why the issue is before council today, while Environmental Tribunal hearings and appeals are still under way.
“The genesis of the RUA is found in the municipal comments submitted before the Renewable Energy Approval (REA), was granted. The municipality wanted to have a say, in that if this was to be approved, we wanted to have a say in how our roads are used and how the taxpayers of this county would be protected. The (MOE) director issuing the REA did not grant to the county that request, but rather, gave wpd six months to use its best efforts to come into an agreement with this county.
“The answer to why today is the six months expired in February. All that wpd has to do now is to go to the (MOE) director and say Condition N said we were to use our best efforts to enter into an agreement with the County; we’ve done that, we’ve negotiated an agreement that wpd could live with. If it’s council’s position to deny it, the could go back and say ‘we can’t achieve anything further, please give us our check mark’. We did use our best efforts.”
A deferral, he said would allow wpd to do the same thing, but later in the meeting noted a deferral that relates to the workings of the proposed agreement, he believes should be acceptable to wpd.
“It seems clear they have timelines from a corporate nature that we have no right to object to,” said Fairbrother.
An Environmental Review Tribunal appeal was upheld February 26, ruling the 27-turbine development would cause serious and irreversible damage to Blanding’s Turtles and Little Brown Bats. Future, not yet announced, mitigation hearings are to be held.
“The RUA agreement has nothing to do with the ERT or any outstanding approvals,” said Fairbrother, to groans from the gallery. “It is a document negotiated at the request of the County for the protection of its ratepayers in terms of a tax base.”
“Regardless of which side of the issue you are on, the process of the Green Energy Act pretty much strips the municipalities bare of any legal rights to say no, or to slow the process down,” said Fairbrother.
The other consequence, he said, was that in November wpd applied to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) saying we need one final permission from you to put our distribution lines along the road network. It’s really important to know that Section 41 of the Electricity Act says wpd can make its application and doesn’t need the consent of the County.
“The OEB has given previous approvals to wpd and other energy providers over the strong objections of the County,” he said. “There’s no reason to suspect they won’t do exactly the same thing here.
“If the RUA is deferred or if it’s denied by council I fully expect that wpd will go to the OEB and get their approval and we will have no say and no protection. They will go back to the (MOE) director on Condition N saying we have used their best efforts and they’ll get their check mark, and the County, at the end of the day, and its ratepayers, will have no protection offered in the agreement… In the absence of that agreement, bluntly, the county gets nothing.”
“We need to defer and put pressure on the province to get rid of this crazy Green Energy Act,” said councillor Jim Dunlop, to applause from the gallery.
To more applause, councillor Dianne O’Brien said wpd was “bullying the County. We’re an unwilling host.”
All were in favour of motion, except councillor Jamie Forrester, of Athol.
“I’m hoping this doesn’t end up costing the County, and all of us, a whole lot of money in the end,” he said.
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