By Don Crosby, Owen Sound Sun Times
Grey Highlands council’s decision to refuse International Power Canada access to municipal road allowances for electrical lines will mean the loss of a $500,000 offer from the wind developer.
In a 4-3 vote Monday, councillors turned down IPC’s request to bury the transmission lines for 11 proposed turbines in Grey Highlands under municipal property rather than stringing them overhead.
To sweeten the offer IPC offered to make a one-time $500,000 community donation. In return Grey Highlands had to agree to drop its plans to take an Ontario Energy Board ruling — made earlier this year that approved IPC’s request to use the municipal road allowances –to Divisional Court.
Council appealed, to the OEB, an earlier OEB ruling that IPC was both a producer and a trans-m itter of electricity, but the board rejected their case. Council then narrowly voted to go to the Divisional Court for a legal opinion about whether the company is in fact a distributor of electricity.
“We have a decision from the OEB. We have the right to use the road allowance and the lines will be overhead instead of (being) buried,” said David Timm, vice president of IPC, after Monday’s council decision.
“The road agreement was to bury the lines and move the majority of the infrastructure onto private lands with only four road crossings underneath the road except for a short piece that would be along the road allowance, plus the ($500,000) community fund. Now the line will be overhead as per the OEB decision.”
Timm noted that it was always IPC’s preference to have a road-use agreement with the municipality and to offer the $500,000 donation.
“In our minds it would be a more palatable solution. The lines would be out of sight. It would minimize the effect on the road allowance. It’s always been our preference since June 2010 when we were negotiating the road use agreement with staff and their legal counsel,” he said.
Timm said he doesn’t anticipate IPC will make any further offers to council.
Coun. David Kell voted in favour of the agreement saying that there are already plenty of utilities and services such as natural gas, hydro and telephone that use the municipal road allowance without permission and for much longer than the 40-year period that IPC was asking for.
“We’re signing away the use of a public asset. How do we know these people will be around in 40 years . . . I don’t like this deal,” said Coun. Lynn Silverton, who voted against the agreement.
“We would be signing away our rights as a municipality or council and opening it up for everybody else to do what they want,” she added.
Coun. Paul Allen wondered why IPC was trying so hard to get an agreement by threatening councillors with a possible lawsuit if they didn’t approve it, offering a $500,000 bonus and were willing to to bury the line if it has the right to string the lines overhead along municipal road allowance.
Coun. Stewart Halliday said the agreement was drawn up by IPC lawyers and favours the company’s interests. He offered to go over the document clause by clause.
“I take exception to your comments. This is not an agreement that was drawn up by some amateurs. This has been done in consultation with our lawyers . . . it has the professionalism of both lawyers,” said Mayor Wayne Fitzgerald.
Opponents of the Plateau 1 and 2 wind projects, which include 11 wind turbines in Grey Highlands, were delighted with council’s decision.
“Yahoo and everyone is happy for the councillors standing up for us once more,” said Lorrie Gillis.
“It means they are voting with their conscience against the law that’s a bad law, the Green Energy Act, an act that supports harm to citizens of Ontario and they in all consciousness can’t do that,” said Jennifer Stewart Love.
“I think the issue today was that democracy prevailed rather than dictatorial moves by Plateau Wind. This is our community, not theirs. None of those people live here. They have no stake in the community,” said Larry Close, president of Preserve Grey Highlands, a citizens’ group that has launched a legal challenge in Divisional Court questioning the Ministry of the Environment’s reasons for issuing IPC a certificate of approval for the wind projects in Grey Highlands.
He said IPC’s decision to proceed with the project is being done at the company’s peril.
Construction has already begun at several of the 11 proposed turbine sites south of Maxwell.
“They still have several steps to proceed with before they are home free. They haven’t proven yet in a court of law that they have the use of road allowances. The issue is if Plateau Wind has a statutory right, as they claim they do, then so does every other Tom, Dick and Mary that comes along and wants to generate electricity,” said Close, who thinks the fight against IPC is far from over.
“I don’t believe it’s over. It certainly not over from our perspective,” he said.
Halliday said the municipality’s Divisional Court challenge will continue to proceed as originally planned.