By Don Crosby Owen Sound Sun Times
Grey Highlands wants to charge hefty fees for new wind turbines in the municipality. Council proposes a $35,000 building fee for each industrial turbine and an additional $100,000 surety to help cover the cost of decommissioning if the owners fail to meet their obligations.
Coun. Lynn Silverton said the charges are to ensure that the municipality is protected and receives adequate compensation now and for any future costs.
“I’m extremely concerned about our farmers that are leasing out their properties and being left with something like that to dismantle, or their families in years to come,” Silverton said during a public meeting Monday to get input from residents.
Grey Highlands resident Larry Close recommended that wind developers post a performance bond to cover the cost of repairing any roads, bridges and culverts damaged by heavy equipment during the construction phase.
“I think the municipality should have money in hand, a cash bond, to fix up the roads. I don’t think they should leave that to the proponent. I use the example of Wolfe Island. The proponent there did a Band Aid job and now there are all kinds of culvert problems and everything else down there,” Close said.
Close also wants council to ensure that wind developers purchase liability insurance on behalf of the municipality to protect Grey Highlands against future lawsuits.
“Even though the municipality is acting legally now, should it subsequently go to court and become party to a lawsuit it could be named as corespondent in a very expensive suit. I’m thinking here if people are facing 40% decreases in their property values that’s their major investment in their life and why wouldn’t they want to recover that,” Close said.
Grey Highlands chief building official John Acres said the $35,000 building permit fee is an arbitrary amount that will be applied to industrial turbines no matter the size or construction value.
“The charge has to be relevant. You have to justify the cost,” said chief administrative officer Dan Best.
Best told a packed council chamber that the current council is carrying on efforts begun by the former council to stop wind development from taking place in Grey Highlands.
“This council has done everything it can do for residents. With one voice it had said that it doesn’t want wind turbines coming into Grey Highlands. Council has worked with integrity and diligence through the process. I don’t think this council will give up representing the interests of the municipality,” he said.
“I understand that council is working hard to protect us from our own government,” said resident and critic Lorrie Gillis.
Best said International Power Canada, which has a project with 11 proposed wind turbines in southern Grey Highlands, proposed to pay the municipality $50,000 a year for 20 years as a bonus if the municipality would sign a road use agreement.
Council turned down the offer and the company appealed to the Ontario Energy Board and won its case. The municipality is trying to appeal that ruling. In the meantime IPC offered the municipality a one-time offer of $500,000 if councillors would back the road agreement.
Best said that offer has also been turned down by council.
Acres said once he receives a request for the building permit for a wind turbine or any other structure he has to satisfy himself that the request meets the building code and zoning bylaw and see if the project meets applicable sections of provincial planning policies. Some of those requirements have been superceded by the Green Energy Act.
When it comes to meeting provincial standards for air quality and noise the developer receives a certificate of approval from the Ministry of the Environment, Acres said.
Acres said once he’s satisfied the request meets all of the regulations he has 30 days to issue the permit.
Acres admits he’s caught between protecting the interests of the municipality and acting in accordance with his duties.
Best said an Arran-Elderslie bylaw, which was accepted by many local municipalities and calls for wind developers to provide certification from federal and provincial government agencies that wind turbines don’t be a threat to the health of nearby residents, doesn’t carry legal weight.
“You can’t enforce a bylaw against a provincial policy,” said Best, who noted that the Arran-Elderslie bylaw flies in the face of the Green Energy Act.
Close noted that IPC has changed ownership four times since the process began in Grey Highlands a few years ago and all of the principal owners are off shore. He says it will be difficult to find anyone who will be financially responsible 20 years from now to decommission the turbines.
Best said if the owners of the turbines can’t be held financially responsible then it falls to the property owner from whom the developer rented the land. And if that person fails to cover the cost then it will fall to the municipality to pay for cleanup.
Tony Clarke of Chatsworth said it costs $10,000 a day to bring in a heavy duty crane to lower the nacelle, which is the casing at the top of the tower that houses the generator, gear box and drive train components.
Rosemary Mesley of neighbouring Clearview Township said she didn’t think $100,000 was enough of a surety; that in 20 years when the life of the turbines is expected to expire that amount of money wouldn’t be worth much.
Others who attended the meeting want the municipality to ensure that IPC has an emergency response plan in place before any building permit is issued to deal with situations that can’t be met by the local volunteer fire department and emergency services in the event of a disaster at one of the turbines, such as fire or explosion in the nacelle.
Coun. Stewart Halliday said after Monday’s meeting that he was pleased with the open and candid nature of the dialogue between residents and council and staff.
“I think the people of Grey Highlands know that the council doesn’t want wind turbines here”
“We don’t want them here. We’ll do what we can to keep them out. We have played all of our cards. We’re running out of options,” Best said.