By Susan Hundertmark, Seaforth Huron Expositor
At the urging of Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT), Huron East’s administrative committee is recommending that the municipality investigate ways to create legal agreements with wind turbine farms planned in Huron East.
Councillors sat in on a phone conference with HEAT’s lawyer Kristi Ross and her colleague Konstantine Stavrakos where several possible municipal bylaws were presented which, if adopted, could compensate Huron East for the costs associated with wind turbine projects and protect local ratepayers from the potential health effects.
“The genesis and purpose of this it to answer questions about what powers municipalities have now that the Green Energy Act (GEA) has been passed and their Planning Act powers have been stripped,” said Ross, who pointed out that the GEA “doesn’t trump bylaws passed under the Municipal Act.”
Ross said Huron East could pass fiscal bylaws that would set administrative fees as part of its building permit fees that could offset any loss of tax revenue that was caused by reduced property values or damages to municipal infrastructure.
“Some people are finding their property values have dropped by 30 per cent and are having their taxes assessed to reflect that,” she said.
Ross gave examples of municipalities like North Middlesex where they have set administrative fees of $200 and $7 per $1,000 of the cost to build each wind turbine and Clarington where administrative fees of $5,000 and $12 per $1,000 of the cost to build each wind turbine have been set as part of their building permit fees.
She pointed out that since the construction of 10 turbines could end up generating $175,000 to $350,000 in administrative fees for municipalities, “our view is that this is a significant area where the costs can be recouped.”
Ross said municipalities also have the option of reclassifying land that houses wind turbines from agricultural to industrial so that higher tax rates can be charged since the land is being used to generate electricity or requiring that wind turbine companies pay for the costs of staff time spent consulting about the development or for hiring consultants to fulfill the municipal consultation required by the GEA.
She said other costs that could be recovered would include damages to roads and other municipal infrastructure caused by the installation of wind turbines.
Ross also recommended a regulatory bylaw that would put the onus on the wind turbine company to ensure that local citizens are not adversely affected by low frequency noise (LFN), the sound between 20Hz and 100 Hz that has been found to cause a variety of health problems including headaches, sleeplessness, impacts on the cardiac rhythm and respiration rates and disturbances to the central nervous system.
She said regulating LFN would not conflict with provincial regulations because the province ignores it in the planning and approval of wind turbine projects.
“A number of families in the Ripley area had serious and significant health effects as a result of wind turbines in the area,” she said. “For the members of HEAT, that is their significant and real concern.”
“HEAT is asking you to exercise your jurisdiction and your discretion to protect the citizens from low frequency noise,” she said.
Ross said that while there might be a concern that a regulatory bylaw would be technical and costly to do the studies required, the costs could be shared with other municipalities.
“It would require the emitters to demonstrate there is no health effect so you’re putting the onus on the emitters of the LFN and requiring a number of studies at their expense,” she said.
Ross said that while the bylaw could be legally challenged with arguments of a lack of jurisdiction, bad faith and a conflict with provincial legislation, all arguments she said could be avoided by a well-designed bylaw.
She told council that since power transmission lines are being built from Goderich to Seaforth and that several wind projects are in the works locally, any bylaws council might want to put in place should be completed quickly.
“Time is of the essence and these bylaws should be in place before construction begins. Bylaws should be passed before the fall when we’re anticipating a push on energy developments. Please act quickly,” she said.
McKillop Coun. Andrew Flowers asked why Ross was no longer recommending a public nuise bylaw, which would regulate falling ice and snow and the turbine lights but Stavrakos responded that since the requirements deal specifically with wind turbines, such a bylaw would be more likely to be challenged in court.
Ross added that the bylaw should regulate LFN, not the wind turbine industry.
“A bylaw that prevents harm from occurring in the first place is the easiest and safest way of going,” she said.
Tuckersmith Coun. Larry McGrath asked if there is enough scientific data to back up the bylaw regulating LFN and Stavrakos said there is quite a bit of study showing that those suffering medical effects have their problems go away when they leave the area where the wind turbines are located.
“Where the science is weak is tying a specific LFN to a specific effect but I think there will be more coming,” he said, adding that the field of study is new.
Stavrokos added that the province’s chief medical officer of health’s report stating there is no scientific proof linking wind turbine noise with adverse health effects concentrates on permanent harm.
“It’s almost a definition game. There is no evidence that there is permanent harm. You take the people away and the effects go away but as long as you’re exposed to it, there is significant scientific evidence of health issues. If you look at it the way the medical officer of health defined permanent health impacts, she’s right but the scientific evidence is much broader,” he said.
Asked by McKillop Coun. Bill Siemon how many wind turbines would be needed to be affected by the proposed bylaw, Stavrokos said the bylaw was not intended to focus on one turbine used to power a farm.
“You would have to produce 102 decibels using a very large turbine and that’s not typically what you install for your own energy use,” she said, adding that it would likely cost $2 to $5 million to install a turbine that big.
Mayor Joe Seili pointed out that a bylaw passed by Arran-Elderslie requiring certificates from several government agencies confirming that wind turbines will not harm any resident of the municipality is now being challenged by the province and may have to be rescinded.
“There are issues with that bylaw but we’re finding bylaws that don’t have those issues,” said Ross.
Huron East solicitor Greg Stewart predicted that any bylaw Huron East passes concerning wind turbines will be challenged but added that if done “peripherally,” it could be successful.
“What’s being proposed, if carefully crafted, can be done. The test is to make sure it’s not intruding on provincial authority,” he said.
Stewart added that council will have to be careful that any bylaw doesn’t end up regulating a local industry it didn’t intend on regulating. As well, he said council will have to prove that any additional costs assigned to wind turbine development in the building permit have a relationship to what they’re costing the municipality.
“You need to decide if these bylaws provide enough control to you that it’s worth the cost,” said Stewart.
When Seaforth Coun. Joe Steffler said the issue was essentially a county issue, Stewart disagreed pointing out that the proposed bylaws could only be enacted by a lower tier municipality, not the county.