By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
Severn Mayor Mike Burkett has got some upper-tier backing for his campaign to ensure that solar projects don’t take place on agricultural land. Simcoe County Council voted yesterday to have staff prepare a report on public access to site-specific soil studies required to establish renewable energy projects.
But council went further, instructing Warden Cal Patterson to send a letter to Environment Miniser requesting that the Green Energy Act be amended to provide for local decision-making authority regarding solar power and wind energy projects. The reason for the stepped-up demand: fancy footwork by provincial officials to conceal the fact that proper oversight was not exercised.
Burkett detailed the saga of his dealings with the issue, starting with repeated requests to Recurrent Energy, which is building two solar projects in Severn, for the site-specific soil studies.
He then turned to the Ontario Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority and after lengthy dicussions with a variety of officials, he was told the documents are confidential.
But last week, he cornered two provincial officials – Mirrun Zaveri, Deputy Director of the Renewable Energy Facilitation Office in the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and JoAnne Butler, Vice President Electricity Resources for the Ontario Power Authority- at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa.
Burkett learned from them that the soil studies he’s been pursuing since June do not exist. There are no documents, confidential or otherwise, he told council.
“There is no report that will provide the information,”Burket said. “I was misled.”
Tay Mayor Scott Warnock said all municipalities are in the same situation and have heard “the same song and dance.”
Deputy Warden Harry Hughes said residents are asking councils to ensure that Green Energy Act regulations are upheld. “Without soil studies being made available we cannot do that,” he said, referring to an Oro-Medonte project where no boreholes were dug and which proceeded on “just a drive-by look.”
The Green Energy Act prohibits projects on Class 1-3 agricultural land and, in cases where there is a mix of classifications of whatever grade, requires site-specific soil studies.
The authority for soil classification is the Canada Land Inventory, an assessment that dates back to the 1960s.
AWARE Simcoe is calling for an end to the use of the Canada Land Inventory in all planning decisions. The following, part of its comment on the draft Simcoe County Official Plan, explains:
10. Do not rely on the Canada Land Inventory
Planners use the Canada Land Inventory to determine the quality of agricultural land (there are 7 classes, with Classes 1-3 considered most worthy of protection). But this inventory is old (dating back to the 1960s), outdated and in many cases completely wrong because of the methodology of extrapolation (the scale of the survey is one inch per mile or 1:63,360, which allows for significant variations to be missed in the mapping).
The Inventory does not reflect improvements that have resulted from modern farming practices, nor does it allow for recent re-evaluation of certain types of land (pasture to produce healthier and more productive grass-fed beef, for instance). Scientists at the University of Guelph, as well as the land planners at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs acknowledge the inadequacies of this system of guidance for land acquisition and use. The Official Plan should mandate site-specific soil studies before allowing any redesignation of agricultural land.