By Don Crosby, Owen Sound Sun Times
Protesters greet wind turbine developer Michael Crawley who came to update Grey Highlands council Monday on projects owned by International Power Canada.
The president of International Power Canada had to run a gauntlet of placard-waving protesters on his way to make a presentation to Grey Highlands council earlier this week.
Mike Crawley said he was there to update the new council on the company’s application to build 11 wind turbines in Grey Highlands, but he didn’t provide any new information.
“I was disappointed that he didn’t offer any new information or new concepts,” said Coun. Stewart Halliday. “To be able to come before council it’s in our procedural bylaw that you have to bring something new. I didn’t hear anything new.”
Crawley reviewed the history of the company’s relationship with the municipality since before 2008.
He said negotiations appeared to be going well as the company tried to work with the municipality to get an agreement first when the municipality had it’s own policies around restricting the location of wind turbines and later under the Green Energy Act.
Crawley said the company had to adjust its plans to meet the conditions set out in an amendment of the municipality’s official plan. That amendment was based on a viewscape study done by a University of Guelph professor. It called for a minimum setback of 350 metres and restricted where wind turbines could be located.
Once the Green Energy was passed in late 2009 IPC had to adjust its proposals again to meet new demands of 550-metre setbacks under the Green Energy Act.
Crawley said things seemed to be going well until late last year when council turned down a request by IPC for a road use agreement that would allow the company to construct a collector system of hydro lines to bring the electricity generated by the wind turbines to the power grid. At that time the company offered Grey Highlands $50,000 a year for 20 years as a kind of signing bonus. But the municipality turned down the offer and refused to sign a road use agreement. The company appealed the municipality’s decision to the Ontario Energy Board. Crawley said a ruling by the Ontario OEB late last year indicates that the company doesn’t need the approval of the municipality to build its transmission lines along municipal road allowances. That ruling was appealed by Grey Highlands.
Crawley said in February following negotiations with municipal officials IPC modified its incentive package and offered to pay a one time lump sum payment of $500,000. But that offers appears to have been turned down.
However members of council were not privy to the details of that offer.
Coun. Lynn Silverton was ruled out of order at Monday’s meeting by Mayor Wayne Fitzgerald when she asked to know more about that offer. Fitzgerald said those discussions did not involve council and were private discussions between IPC and municipal officials.
Halliday said he hasn’t seen anything in writing either.
“I’m not sure it was every written down on a piece of paper. There was verbiage but do we have a letter from International Power Canada. I don’t think we have it in a letter,” Halliday said.
“Unless they come before council all negotiations behind closed doors are meaningless,” he added.
Larry Close, a spokesperson for the group Preserve Grey Highlands, and one of the opponents of wind energy who was protesting outside the Grey Highlands council chambers, said the company’s latest offer is an insult.
“It means Crawley thinks our municipality is for sale while we’re here to deliver the message that we’re not for sale; not for half a million bucks, not for a million bucks not for $100 million. We don’t have a price,” Close said.
Close said the protest was meant to let Crawley know that Grey Highlands is not a willing host community for wind turbines.
Crawley said the company conducted a phone survey last that indicated 70% of Grey Highlands residents support wind energy.
“They don’t make any business sense. They have to be backed up by natural gas. They are driving up our electricity bills and they driving down our property values. And any real estate agent will tell you that right now. I’ve been contacted by people who are looking for property in the area who walked out of the area when they found out there were these turbine projects on the drawing board,” Close said.
Crawley denied that there are any studies that link loss of property values to proximity to wind turbines.
A public meeting will be held on March 28 to discuss a proposal by Silverton, who is calling for special rates for building permits for wind turbines, and establishment of a surety bond for each turbine built in Grey Highlands.
Silverton is recommending that the building permit for a wind turbine be set at $35,000 and the developers post a $100,000 surety bond for each turbine to ensure the orderly and safe decommissioning of the turbine in the event that nobody else assumes responsibility once it reaches the end of its life.
The meeting will be held in the council chambers on March 28 starting at 5 p.m.