by Francis Baker, Fergus-Flora News Express
Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj has taken local concerns about wind energy to the Western Wardens Association.
The province’s Green Energy Act and the siting of large wind turbine “farms” in agricultural areas was one of the major topics the group discussed at a meeting last week, she said.
The Western Wardens brings together heads of counties in southwestern Ontario to lobby the provincial and federal governments on behalf of local municipalities – Ross-Zuj is in her second term as Wellington County Warden.
“We’re trying to collectively take a position (on wind energy) from the Western Wardens to send to the provincial government,” she said.
With plans for wind farms near Belwood and an organized residents’ group in opposition, wind energy is a “huge concern” to Ross-Zuj and Centre Wellington Council.
Mapleton mayor and former county warden John Green is also facing wind farm proposals in his township, and along with Dufferin Warden Allen Taylor, are looking forward to a meeting with the province to talk about wind energy issues, Ross Zuj said.
But she points out the Green Energy Act which is driving wind farm proposals is law – and has taken most of the ability of municipalities to control wind farms out of municipal hands.
The Oppose Belwood Wind Farms group has suggested there are still many avenues open to municipalities to make things difficult for wind farm promoters – passing a variety of bylaws that obstruct or delay proposals in the hopes of getting changes or getting wind energy companies to drop plans altogether.
But Ross-Zuj said municipalities are moving cautiously because they’re faced with provincial legislation, and there may be legal risks involved.
“All of us collectively at the wardens level received legal advice,” she said. “We want to take the best, most appropriate action to assist municipalities in their opposition to wind turbines.”
Ross-Zuj said municipalities – local and county – have to tread carefully.
“Certainly we aren’t ignoring any of the concerns that our residents have with wind turbines,” she said.
County-based economic development plans, and getting more affordable housing for some areas were also among the priority topics discussed at the meeting.
Wellington County has been fortunate in getting affordable housing allocation, she said – a 55-unit building in Fergus is accepting tenants now.
“Other municipalities have not been so lucky,” she said. “Affordable housing just is not within the reach of many municipalities.”
Working with organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and Association of Municipalities of Ontario the Western Wardens provides a bigger and more powerful voice on issues concerning many individual municipalities, when dealing with upper levels of government.