By Don Crosby, The Owen Sound Sun Times
A decision by Grey Highlands council to delay approval of a road use agreement with a wind energy developer is consistent with the municipality’s call for a moratorium on development of wind energy projects, said Mayor Brian Mullin.
“Why are we dancing around the issue . . . All council members knew that we were just prolonging it. If we’re not going to deal with the agreement then let’s get on with it and make a decision,” said Mullin.
The mayor said he thought councillors were uncomfortable moving the project ahead when they knew they were contemplating approving a bylaw similar to one passed by ArranElderslie, which argues that Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the protection of life, liberty and security — trumps Ontario’s Green Energy Act, which controls alternative energy development in the province.
Since Arran-Elderslie passed its bylaw other municipalities have taken notice. Grey County council has instructed staff to study a similar bylaw.
“I hate to lead the proponents on when actually our intent is that we want a moratorium,” said Mullin.
“I don’t think it mattered what was in the agreement. I don’t think it was going to be passed,” he said.
Earlier this year Grey Highlands council passed a motion calling for a moratorium on further wind energy development until the province studies the health effects of wind turbines. Critics say large-scale industrial turbines cause serious health effects.
“I think that’s the reality. That’s where this council is. I don’t want to lead the proponents down the garden path,” said Mullin.
Jim Wilgar, project manager for International Power, which is behind the Plateau wind energy project — 10 wind turbines in the Maxwell/Feversham area — accepted council’s decision as a temporary delay.
“It’s a very complex document. This council has not had an opportunity to work through the intricacies of a project like this and the numerous components. The road use agreement is a very standard document that we have used in ChathamKent area, Essex. There’s a lot of detail here,” said Wilgar.
During the meeting he asked that a subcommittee be set up with members of council, municipal staff and company representatives to work out the concerns raised by councillors.
“It’s very difficult for members of council to pick up on all of the myriad of details. This is a big thing, a multimillion-dollar project. There should be time and effort taken to be satisfied and we’re quite prepared to do that,” said Wilgar.
The decision to delay approval of the road use agreement came after a lengthy discussion between members of council and Wilgar and consultant Wil Pol.
The lengthy agreement, which detailed the conditions surrounding International Power’s use of roads during the installation of the wind turbines and several kilometres of transmission line along municipal road allowances, was characterized by one councillor as one-sided and favouring the developer.
Coun. Stewart Halliday called the proposal by the company to pay $1,750 to cover staff time in carrying out the agreement “an insult.”
Deputy-mayor David Fawcett said the proposal by International Power for $5 million insurance coverage was half of what it should be.
“We expect the guy who cuts our grass to have that amount of insurance coverage,” said Halliday, who called for the company to post a performance bond.
Concerns were raised over what would happen to trees that would be trimmed or removed to make way for the enhanced hydro lines needed to carry the electricity from the transformer to the transmission system.
The project has been working its way through the approval process since it was announced in August 2007.
“Council has made some progress today in terms of bringing some sanity to this whole issue . . . I think this is a small victory,” said Larry Close, a spokesperson for Preserve Grey Highlands Citizens Alliance, a grassroots organization opposed to the project.
“It’s municipal council asserting its right to have some control over what gets developed and what gets built within the local municipalities as opposed to a bunch of bureaucrats down in Toronto who have never visited this area. In rural Ontario there are some taxpayers and some voters and we insist on our rights,” Close said.
Wilgar said he doesn’t view council’s decision to table the agreement as a setback, but he expects a decision within a reasonable time, perhaps a couple of months.
“Any concern by any member of council is a legitimate concern. Our job is to answer it appropriately and I know we can. We’ve done it all over the rest of Ontario I’m sure we can do it here,” he said.