EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter has been sent to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and is reprinted here at the author’s request.
I am writing to point out a serious error in the environmental requirements for new industrial wind turbine (IWT) projects as laid out in the Green Energy Act. Addressing this flaw has the potential to reduce, at least somewhat, the opposition local landowners have to these projects, and thus this problem requires your immediate attention.
According to the act, turbines are required to be set back a distance of 550 metres from a receptor of noise and vibration (namely a human residence). This means that within a radius of 550 metres around an IWT, no new housing may be constructed. The flaw in the act is that the setback distance is allowed to cross property lines and to fall on land not owned or leased by an IWT farm. This results in an impact to adjacent landowners because the setback restricts them from new residence construction on their lands.
To help you visualize this problem, I would like to give you a fairly tight comparison. In my work as an environmental consultant, I frequently work on environmental assessments for new aggregates operations to fulfill the requirements of the Aggregates Resources Act. Under that act, the setbacks lay out distances pits and quarries must be from neighbouring property lines—not from neighbouring houses. Try to imagine what it would be like to permit a new quarry to go in right on the fence line, allowing the 30-metre setback from the pit face to fall on the neighbour’s property. In the first place, this would put the impacts from the operation (things that are expected within a setback zone, like noise, dust, vibration, etc.) onto the neighbour’s property. Second, it would affect the neighbour’s current and potential land use since some activities, such as crop cultivation, new housing construction, development of a campground, and many other things might no longer be possible where there is dust, noise, etc. The situation is exactly the same with IWTs under the Green Energy Act.
The point of having a setback distance is to recognize that there are impacts within this zone, to intelligently plan where they occur, and to be able to put them where they do the least damage or have the least effect. To assume that adjacent landowners, without their consent and without financial compensation, should bear the brunt of impacts from IWTs is unfair.
As well, restricting land use also has an effect on the local municipality since new housing construction affects future assessment revenue.
You may think that the application and approvals process for new IWT projects takes all this into consideration. However, it is not realistic during the period of the application to ask landowners to lay out all the intended future uses of their lands possible for the remaining years of their ownership. Picture a man with a five-year-old son. How could he know now whether in 20 years he may want to subdivide the lot and build a house for the grown-up son? In addition, in my experience both in Simcoe County and on Manitoulin Island, even when a new residence is already on the books and brought to the attention of the proponent during the application process, it has ended up coming down to splitting hairs over what exactly is the definition of a residence, how many days it must be occupied, etc. before the residence has the possibility of being taken into consideration.
Rather than continue to cause distress, financial loss, and widespread opposition from local residents and municipalities with IWTs, you should immediately move to amend the Green Energy Act so that the 550-metre setback falls on property owned or leased by the proponent of an IWT project rather than allowing it on adjacent property.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Judith Jones, Consulting Biologist
Winter Spider Eco-Consulting, Sheguiandah