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Municipality passes first reading of amended wind energy planning strategy

The first reading of the Municipality of Pictou County’s amended municipal planning strategy regarding wind energy development has passed.

Randy Palmer, the chairperson of the municipality’s planning strategy committee, was disappointed council couldn’t meet in person for the first reading. Instead, council met virtually under the provincial lockdown.

“A lot of work went into this planning bylaw by the committee members, and we had a lot of input by the public,” said Palmer.

Chief administrative officer (CAO) Brian Cullen highlighted the changes to the municipal planning strategy and accompanying land use bylaw, which the municipality began working on in 2007. Two of the existing policies in the strategy were changed, while two new ones have been added.

Policy 1 in the strategy saw the term domestic wind turbines changed to small wind turbines, and the inclusion of a third category – micro-wind. The change to the wording from domestic to small, according to a summary included in the strategy, comes following residents’ concerns that “domestic wind turbines should be regulated in a different manner than presently contained under the bylaw.”

Policy 4, which originally pertained to the regulation of domestic turbines through a setback from property lines, was deleted, and replaced with Policy 4 (a) and (b).

“The biggest change there is that the small wind has a setback from residential uses,” explained Cullen about the first section in the policy. “In the past, it was just from property lines, so that is set at 1,000 metres.”

The second section to Policy 4, he said, establishes the micro-wind turbine’s setback from both residential uses and property lines.

New to the strategy are two policies, the first of which requires developers host a public consultation in the community of the proposed development.

The second new policy sees the municipality establishing a noise standard within the land use bylaw, as well as field studies of the noise emissions to ensure minimal disturbance.

The warden explained the changes are to protect its residents while also enabling a wind energy industry in the county.

“It’s trying to find that fine line between the two,” said Robert Parker. “The committee worked hard at that.”

With the unanimous passing of the first reading, council also approved changes to the land use bylaw based on the changes to the municipal planning strategy.

Proponents, explained Cullen, have to hold a public meeting for residents located within two kilometres off the proposed development.

Under utility scale, the change has been made in the definition for anything over 50kW to be classified as utility scale; it was previously set at 200kW.

In regards to setbacks, utility and small wind turbines now have to be set back from the property line to two times the height of the turbine instead of one. There’s now also a setback requirement of 1,000 metres from a residence, except residences on the same lot as the turbine.

The bylaw now includes a new provision of a maximum height on small wind turbines of 60 metres.

Small wind turbines have a capacity greater than 10, but no more than 50; and micro-wind is classified as anything 10 or below.

“One of the most significant changes is utility and small scale wind turbines shall not be permitted to exceed 40 decibels,” said Cullen. “There is a requirement in the bylaw that a noise study be completed within the first year of operations.”

Cullen explained should there be complaints from the public regarding the noise, the development officer could order additional studies. Noise studies would be conducted by a recognized acoustical engineer.

Parker explained not everyone was happy with the amendments, from either a resident’s or developer’s point of view, however he thought it was the middle line council was seeking.

Before the strategy’s amendments move to second reading, the municipality is required to host a public hearing, however the current COVID-19 pandemic means none has been scheduled as of yet.

“This has been a long, sometimes challenging process, and you can’t please everybody all the time, especially when they’re diametrically opposed,” said Coun. David Parker.

He said there are three points to the amended strategy.

“First, we’re relying on a noise standard instead of relying on the distance from a home. Second, the 40 decibel standard is by far the most common standard in Canada. And third, both sides have indicated although it’s not perfect, they can live with that. We may hear differently at a public hearing, but that’s what we’re hearing at this time.”