by Don Crosby, Owen Sound Sun Times
Grey Highlands is appealing a ruling by the Ontario Energy Board to allow wind energy developer International Power Canada to use municipal road allowances for distribution lines from its Plateau Wind Project in the Maxwell Feversham area.
“We are pleased that the mayor and council are requesting a review of the Ontario Energy Board decision,” said Virginia Steward Love, a spokesperson for Preserve Grey Highlands Citizens Alliance Inc. following a recent council meeting.
She said the decision to appeal is consistent with a request passed last spring by the former council calling on Premier Dalton McGuinty to impose a moratorium on the construction of wind turbines until it’s been determined what the possible health effects are of living close to them.
The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) regulates natural gas and electricity utilities in Ontario. This includes setting rates and licensing all participants in the electricity sector including generators, transmitters, distributors, wholesalers and electricity retailers, as well as natural gas marketers who sell to low volume customers.
In its Jan. 12 ruling the OEB accepted the argument put forward by IPC that it was a distributor of electricity and entitled to access municipal road allowances for its transmission lines.
IPC appealed to the OEB following council’s refusal last July to vote on a proposal by the company for an annual payment of $50,000 to the municipality as part of a proposed agreement to the let the wind developer install new utility poles along municipal road allowances.
The agreement would have allowed the company to replace 7.8-metre hydro poles with taller ones, which would be used to carry electricity generated by the 11 turbines planned for southern Grey Highlands in the Maxwell/Feversham area.
The company made a similar request to Grey County council to use the road allowance along a portion of County Road 2 south of Feversham.
“In a democratic society our municipal government cannot stand by and allow private enterprise to expropriate public property for their own profit. Road allowances are an asset of the whole community,” said Love, who noted that more than 150 people support council’s decision.
“People are still e-mailing and asking if there’s still time to add their name.”
The appeal will be heard by OEB. If the municipality is not satisfied with that decision it can appeal it to the Divisional Court.
Coun. Stewart Halliday agrees with the appeal saying the OEB is giving IPC the same status as Hydro One Networks which is licensed to distribute electricity provincewide.
“It’s not clear in the language that IPC uses that they have those rights. It’s quite clear the way we read it that they don’t have these rights. We don’t think the OEB has the right to tell people other than a government agency that they can come on municipal property and put in hydro poles,” Halliday said during an interview on Saturday.
He noted that under the proposed agreement with Grey Highlands once IPC had completed construction of the transmission lines along municipal property the lines would be turned over the Hydro One.
Love said council’s decision to back an appeal sends a strong message to everyone including those on council who voted against the appeal.
“In our municipality we need to make those decisions and not the developer or the province for that matter, ” she said.
Coun. Dave Kell voted against the motion to appeal the OEB ruling because he doesn’t think it’s a fight the municipality can win.
“I think it’s a no-win situation. I think it would be a hard one to beat,” said Kell who doesn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other about wind turbines.
“If people think something should not be fought simply because there is a good chance you’re going to lose, then what happens to democracy,” Love said.
Mayor Wayne Fitzgerald said his decision to vote against the motion to support the appeal is consistent with the position he took during last year’s election campaign.
“I believe that as long as the Green Energy Act is in place I didn’t think it was in the best interest of all of the taxpayers to appeal it from a cost point of view. That was my stance in my election campaign and I stuck with it and I made no secret about that, ” Fitzgerald said.
Halliday said the OEB decision is a further example of the extent to which the provincial government is going to control municipalities that are already chaffing under the restrictions of the Green Energy Act.
The act has removed local control over planning approval process for alternate energy projects.
“Municipalities are being told we can’t decide anything any more for our constituents . . . the Ontario Energy Board has decided that this is the political will of the province . . . we’re saying we don’t agree,” Halliday said
No date has been set for an appeal.