By Susan Hundertmark, Huron Expositor
Huron East council will vote on whether or not to give third reading to a bylaw modelled after a wind turbine development policy for Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (ACW) at its next meeting on April 5.
In a recorded vote, councillors voted unanimously to present the bylaw, which includes a 2,000-metre setback for wind turbines from houses, at its next meeting for third reading.
They also voted unanimously to send a letter to the provincial government, Huron-Bruce’s MPP Carol Mitchell, the Ministry of the Environment and the leader of the official opposition that says Huron East does not support the current separation distance between wind turbines and their receptors in the Green Energy Act.
“If there is a change of government, we could send a letter stating that we want these distances changed so it would be on record,” said McKillop Bill Siemon.
Tuckersmith Coun. Larry McGrath gave an impassioned speech saying it’s up to Huron East council to look after the health and safety of its residents since the health concerns of people living close to wind turbines are being ignored by the provincial government.
“The people having problems are being ignored. We can send all the letters in the world to the minister or the government and you might as well put them in a burn barrel because they’re not being read,” he said. “I think we’ve got to give this a third and final reading for the simple fact that the Green Energy Act has taken everything away from us, everything.”
McGrath agreed that Huron East could end up having to spend money on legal fees over the decision but pointed out that the municipality has been to court in the past on a variety of matters.
“I would urge council to go on the Internet and listen to some of the testimony – it’s sickening,” he said, adding that there are now 73 anti-wind groups in Ontario. “You’ve got people who loved the idea of having the turbine there and now they’ve moved out of the house. Does the government care? No.”
McGrath said other municipalities are passing similar bylaws to protect their ratepayers.
“It’s up to us to look after the health and safety of our people. Why would you buy somebody out, buy their property and make them sign a gag order so they can’t talk about their medical problems? There aren’t that many sick people out there for no reason,” he said.
Tuckersmith Les Falconer questioned how close the turbines would be from St. Columban School in the St. Columban wind project.
“Would 2,000 metres be enough from the school and the kids?” he asked.
But, Brussels Coun. Joe Seili warned councillors that they would be going against the Green Energy Act and likely taken to court.
“We all know the Green Energy Act and its ramifications if you pass a bylaw knowing we’re going against it. We’d be on the hook for court costs and any loss of income of the developer. We have ratepayers on both sides of this fence and we were elected to represent both sides of the ratepayers,” he said.
Seili said that the municipality can’t afford the costs of the fight, adding Huron East is in a “no-win situation.” He said even if there’s a change of government, wind companies are already setting up projects.
Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler said letters from lawyers are recommending that council shouldn’t pass the bylaw and that if council does pass it, council will be challenged.
A letter to council from Jose Menendez, of St. Columban Energy LP and Pristine Power, says his company is “of the view that the municipality does not have the authority to enact the bylaw.”
“The purpose of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 is to foster the growth of renewable energy projects and remove barriers to renewable energy projects, and this bylaw frustrates the purpose of that Act,” said the letter.
Seaforth Coun. Bob Fisher said he is torn between the two sides and wondered if there is anything else council can do.
“I want to do something to help these people because I know there is health issues but I agree with Joe when he says we’re voting against a higher law. It’s frustrating,” said Fisher.
McGrath pointed out that wind turbines could be placed within 550 metres of one of Huron East’s towns and villages and affect a lot more people.
“We are these people’s last resort if we don’t pass this. I realize the Green Energy Act is going to try to override us,” he said, adding that it will take two years for Huron County to make any progress with a low frequency noise bylaw the county is now researching.
Siemon pointed out that ACW passed a bylaw in December but no one has launched a lawsuit against that municipality.
“I think we should do something and I think this bylaw maybe is our only answer. Even if we do have to go to court, we’ve got other municipalities fighting with us because they’re doing the same thing,” said Falconer.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan and Brussels Coun. David Blaney did not vote because of a conflict of interest.