Posted By Scott Dunn Markdale Standard
Though the Green Energy Act permits them on the Niagara Escarpment, industrial wind turbines could never comply with the purpose and objectives or planning criteria of the Niagara Escarpment Plan, escarpment commission staff say.
“It’s not a natural feature and there’s no way to hide them, so there’s a basic conflict right there, with the basic purpose of the Niagara Escarpment Plan,” said Lynne Richardson, a senior planner in the Niagara Escarpment Commission’s Thornbury office.
“There simply isn’t a location that the visual impact could be sufficiently mitigated.”
Companies are busy lining up properties on which to build wind farms with turbines over 100 metres high locally and across Ontario — but not within the Niagara Escarpment’s planning area.
“It seems that the word is out that the Niagara Escarpment Plan is a provincially protected resource area,” Richardson said.
“It’s a biosphere reserve. There seems to be a lot of respect for the policies that protect the escarpment.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named the Niagara Escarpment a World Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The Bruce Trail, follows it.
The escarpment is a forested 725-kilometre ridge of sedimentary rock, with craggy, exposed rock faces, which snakes from Niagara Falls to Tobermory.
Escarpment development controls originated in the 1970s and were formalized under the Niagara Escarpment Plan in 1985 and subsequent updates.
Two years ago the Ontario Liberal government’s Green Energy Act amended the Niagara Escarpment Plan by making wind power a permitted use.
It did so by changing the definition of a utility by adding “generation, transmission and distribution of electrical power” as a permitted use in the plan area.
But Don Scott, an Owen Sound land-use planner and chairman of the NEC, said the province has effectively excluded the Niagara Escarpment area for industrial turbine development by subjecting wind proposals to NEC development control.
“The province has been very clear on the NEC. It’s almost, I’m not going to say it’s a no-go, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.”
Scott said he “very much” favours this because industrial wind turbines are not in keeping with the natural environment.
“And I think once it’s been established too, that it’s going to be very difficult to reverse that position.”
Besides, there are “far better” places for wind turbines, such as near the Lake Huron shoreline, where tying into the power grid would generally be easier, he said.
The Niagara Escarpment Plan forbids any development in some areas and sets development criteria in others.
Its seven land-use designations aim to protect the escarpment and surrounding area yet accommodate competing resource and recreation priorities by permitting such uses as gravel pits and ski resorts.
“Like any permitted use, it’s only permitted subject to meeting the standard. So it if applies to a house, it applies to an industrial wind tower,” Richardson said.
“Even though we haven’t been tested yet with an actual proposal in the boundaries of the Niagara Escarpment Plan, we still feel that no industrial turbine by their very nature could satisfy the purpose, objectives, criteria, etc.,” Richardson said.
A “cornerstone” of the plan is its purpose, Richardson said, “to maintain the Niagara Escarpment substantially as a continuous natural environment.”
“And an industrial wind turbine will tower over any landscape, and so it cannot be part of a natural environment.”
There are a host of criteria which supports that objective which industrial wind turbines wouldn’t meet, she said.
“I feel confident that our policies are strong enough that the turbines wouldn’t be compatible with the plan.”
Richardson allowed that staff make recommendations and commissioners make decisions, which are subject to appeal.
The commission members have permitted small wind turbines associated with a private residence or farm, after accommodating staff suggestions.
“The commission has generally supported our recommendations when it comes to visual impact and resiting or lowering the height,” she said.
Commission decisions are subject to appeal to the the Environmental Review Tribunal. Potential appellants, beyond the development proponent, include anyone who requests to receive the particular commission decision in question, anyone the commission deems may have an interest and neighbouring property owners within 120 metres of the subject property.
If the tribunal disagrees with the commission, the matter is left to the Minister of Natural Resources to decide.
Given the controversy wind turbines generate now, allowing them anywhere has become politically riskier.
Until the last few years, wind turbines generally were seen as a welcome part of the solution to reduce carbon emissions by reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
But opposition has grown to industrial wind turbines based on potential health effects such as sleeplessness and tinnitus, and concerns about depreciating property values.
In May, Grey County council directed staff to investigate preparing a wind turbine control bylaw for the protection of people’s health. Some there cited what was was perceived to be the negative impact turbines have on tourism too.
Arran-Elderslie passed a turbine control bylaw based on health concerns and Charter arguments. Other Grey-Bruce municipalities are considering joining the fight too.