By Brian Shypula, Beacon Herald
Municipalities in Ontario’s windy west are tired of feeling powerless when it comes to the regulation of wind farms.
“A number of municipalities out there just aren’t comfortable with that, just rolling over and playing dead,” Kevin Eccles, chair of the Western Ontario Warden Caucus representing 15 municipalities, said Friday.
The group has formed a committee whose job it will be to write a report for the province by the end of October. The group also wants to meet with the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the McGuinty government about standardized review and approvals processes.
“We’ve got so many different interpretations,” Eccles said.
The concern is the Ontario Green Energy Act takes away decision-making authority away from municipalities.
As a result, wind farm developers are ignoring municipal councils in the placement of turbine installations.
“The province is the only level of government to have the clout to enforce strict regulations around renewable energy projects,” Environment Minister John Wilkinson said Thursday.
The Perth-Wellington MPP said he has a “great working relationship” with the Western Wardens and is willing to hear what they have to say, but noted the province already has strict rules in place for wind farms and other renewable energy projects.
“Under the law they have to show us that they’ve done those consultations, they’ve heard the feedback from people and municipalities, that they have taken the steps necessary to address those concerns, and then my ministry reviews that to see if they have done an adequate job making sure they’ve done all that homework,” Wilkinson said.
“And then and only then would we make a decision whether to approve any particular project,” he said.
The minister conceded the rules don’t apply to projects that were in the approval process before the Renewable Energy Approvals regulations enacted in September 2009.
Municipal council are usually the first to feel public fallout over the wind farms.
Health issues, lower production from livestock, loss of property values and inability to develop property around the sites are some of the com-plaints.
“I can’t see it working that the municipalities would have the say totally. I think there has to be some middle ground somewhere,” said West Perth Mayor John Van Bakel, who volunteered to represent Perth County on the Western Wardens committee.
“Obviously to the west of us in Huron County it’s a very hot topic,” he said.
“It’s somewhat spilling into our area. Not that it’s a great concern at this time but I expect it to become a great concern,” he added.
By coincidence, Van Bakel said he was approached by a company that’s putting up a test tower in Logan Ward east of Bornholm about two weeks ago.
Eccles said the Western Wardens group itself is divided on wind farms.
The developments should be steered by the province to the municipalities that want them, he suggested.