By Donal O’Connor, Stratford Beacon Herald
West Perth property owners are being “bombarded” with requests for wind turbine leases, and the township’s mayor wants Perth County council to become involved in some way with the controversial issue.
“I don’t know what the answer is or what to do,” said Coun. Walter McKenzie, who raised the issue Thursday at the first regular meeting of the newly installed county council.
It’s a tough issue to understand and to deal with, he said, raising the question: “Is this something we want in our municipalities or is it not?” “I’m being told by our ratepayers, undoubtedly, No we don’t want them.'”
He said he wanted to know what’s been happening in other municipalities and how they are dealing with it.
McKenzie found that other councillors share some of his concerns about communities being divided by wind turbines and that solar panel installations are also an issue.
From council’s discussion, there appears to be little understanding about criteria used by the province for approving or not approving proposed wind turbine projects, which fall under provincial rather than municipal jurisdiction.
McKenzie said it appeared all proponents have to do is have a public meeting, but if there are objections that doesn’t mean the project won’t be approved.
He also cited the prospect of municipalities facing property assessment appeals because of the presence of wind turbines next door.
“I believe this is a very serious issue,” said Coun. Vince Judge of North Perth, who referred in particular to the Durham area.
“It has really split the community,” he said.
Farmers signing leases with wind energy companies are finding they are locked into confidentiality agreements, and neighbours are finding out there’s little that can be done, as projects are approved by the province, council heard.
“When something like that is taken out of our hands and which we have some responsibility for — and that’s the zoning, official plans and so on — it is a concern to us that it’s a creation that we don’t have any say in it,” said Judge.
“And we should have some say.”
He referred to Dublin, Moorefield, Arthur and areas along Hwy. 21 as communities that are being impacted by the wind turbine issue.
Coun. Meredith Schneider of North Perth suggested municipalities should have control over matters that involve land use.
“We’re the ones who are going to take the flack for it, so I think we should have some control over it.”
He cited a situation in which 40 truckloads of cement were being hauled to a turbine project site.
Council agreed to a suggestion from Warden Julie Behrns that John Wilkinson — Perth-Wellington MPP and environment minister — be invited to a council meeting to answer councillors’ questions
Behrns said she has been hearing a lot more about kilowatt solar panels than wind turbines.
She said it appears building permits or inspections aren’t needed and lot-line setbacks aren’t regulated.
Perth South Coun. James Aitcheson expressed a similar view, saying there’s nothing townships can do about where solar panels are located and there are no inspections.
Coun. Ian Forrest contended that councillors all need to be better informed before taking action as a body.
“This county is committed to economic development and it (alternative energy) certainly is an aspect of development,” he said.
Forrest said the media has not presented a balanced view of the pros and cons and has not distinguished between the various types of entrepreneurs involved in the projects.
Contributing to the discussion, county planning director Dave Hanly acknowledged it’s “a particularly difficult issue” because provincial policy trumps county and lower-tier municipal planning policies.
He suggested to council there’s merit in keeping current on what’s happening on the issue and recommended attending an upcoming meeting on wind power to be held in Stratford to “take in” what’s being said without necessarily being drawn into the discussion.
(The presentation by West and East Perth Against Turbines is scheduled for Dec. 16 at the Arden Park Hotel in Stratford.)
He noted municipalities have a voice through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario if they think regulations warrant changing.
While council acceded to the idea of inviting Wilkinson to answer queries, Judge predicted they would just hear a repeat of provincial “propaganda.”
“We’re going to get the government view. I want to get both sides of the whole thing,” he said.
McKenzie suggested also inviting one of the key people from the ministry who approve projects.