by Brad Holden The Creemore Echo
The future of the wind energy industry has become a complicated matter in Ontario, and nowhere was that more evident than Monday night’s meeting of Clearview Council, where wind turbines provided both the context and subtext of several of the evening’s debates.
In front of a very vocal, capacity crowd made up primarily of people who oppose wind farms being established in the Township, the meeting got underway with Deputy Mayor Alicia Savage taking another crack at the motion she had put forward and Council had passed two weeks earlier.
That motion resolved that the Township would not comment on applications for renewable energy projects within its boundaries, due to the fact that the Green Energy Act has removed all decision-making authority on the projects from municipalities and has not provided any method of cost-recovery should local governments require expert help or extensive staff time to prepare comments. In the two weeks since the motion had passed, it had received a lot of criticism from residents, who felt Council was turning its back on their concerns.
Declaring that the original motion “did not fully communicate its intent” (that, while Clearview Township continues to support the call it made earlier this year for a moratorium on wind turbines until more is learned about their health effects, it does not intend to incur any costs commenting on applications that it has no ability to grant or deny), Savage made a motion to rescind the earlier motion and then proposed an amended one.
The new motion called for the following actions when green energy applications are made to the Province for locations inside Clearview:
1. Staff will prepare a report for Council (and the Province) that is not restricted to the Provincial consultation process but instead provides a proper and full opportunity to comment;
2. Staff will rely on internal capacity to deal with the application and, if external resources are deemed necessary, come before Council to request these expenditures; and 3. Staff shall solicit input from the public and assemble a file of such input for submission to the Province. In addition, Staff will prepare a submission to the Province seeking a method and authority to collect application review expenses from proponents of renewable energy projects.
The preamble of the motion also restated the fact that Clearview does not actually have any authority over renewable energy applications.
Councillor Thom Paterson, who had been critical of Savage’s original motion, seconded the new motion and said that it returned Council to its role of representing Clearview residents, giving them a “clear channel to the Province through the municipality.”
Mayor Ken Ferguson was also complementary, citing the new motion as evidence that “Council does listen” and pointing out that the wind energy situation is a complicated one. “It’s difficult to please everybody,” he said.
Councillor Shawn Davidson was the only Councillor to express concern with the new motion, stating he was still wary of the resources that commenting on applications would absorb. “We have no authority,” he said. “The Province took it away from us precisely because we are the ones that listen to the people. I don’t see (Simcoe-Grey MPP) Jim Wilson in this room, or Minister (of Energy and Infrastructure Brad) Duguid.”
Before Davidson could finish, his comments were drowned out by hecklers in the Council chambers, causing Mayor Ferguson to call for order. Council then voted unanimously to approve Savage’s new motion.
With Clearview Township’s position on commenting on wind applications out of the way, the next item on the agenda concerning wind energy was a public meeting for an amendment to the Township’s Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw, brought forward by the Township planning department and characterized as dealing with several “housekeeping” issues.
While the majority of the amendment’s proposed changes were indeed minor (ranging from mapping error corrections to an addition of towing compounds as a permitted use), two had drawn the attention of anti-turbine ratepayers group Clearview WAIT, resulting in the standing-room-only crowd at the meeting.
The first proposed a removal of Section 2.30 of the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw, a one-page list of regulations regarding the establishment of solar or wind energy-based facilities in the Township. Presenting the amendment to Council and the public, Township planning director Michael Wynia explained that the regulations had been written when the Zoning Bylaw had been drafted in 2006, before the Green Energy Act came into being. Now, with that legislation removing any local authority with regard to renewable energy projects, Section 2.30 had become both unenforceable and misleading.
WAIT chair Colin Huismans, however, objected to the section’s removal in a speech from the podium that touched on many facets of the province-wide fight against wind energy and resulted in a standing ovation from the crowd. Removing it, he said, would send a clear message to the wind industry that Clearview Township welcomes wind turbines. He also predicted a change of Provincial government in November 2011, and advised that the section should remain in the bylaw since, in his opinion, the return of green energy authority to municipalities would likely be an election issue and could come true should the Liberals lose the election.
Wynia disagreed with Huismans’ assertion that the section’s removal would send a message, and added that, should the Green Energy Act eventually be amended so that municipalities have their authority returned, the section would have to be rewritten anyway, as it is quite slight as it stands now. Wynia also conceded that, if removing the section was going to put the rest of the housekeeping bylaw in jeopardy, he’d rather see it left in.