by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A change to Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approvals regulations slated to come into effect Jan.1, will affect rural property rights, says the president of Wind Concerns Ontario. The organization is a coalition of 54 citizens groups protesting large-scale wind power generation in the province.
John Laforet says the amendment, one of several posted on the province’s environmental registry, will allow wind energy developers placing turbines to use typical local building patterns and existing zoning by-laws to calculate setbacks from vacant lots. The regulations previously required developers to calculate distances from the middle of the lot.
“Why is it that a developer gets to tell you how you get to use your land because it’s getting in the way of their profit?” says Laforet, pointing out that in many instances assumptions would be made on houses eventually being located close to a road or highway, therefore giving wind developers greater flexibility when establishing a turbine’s location. “It just speaks to the lack of property rights considerations in this whole debate,” he says.
Laforet who lives in Scarborough, also criticized another amendment that will mean wind developers won’t have to move turbines to conform to setbacks if a dwelling is built on a property between the times the energy project is approved and construction begins. According to provincial documents, the change “requires proponents to consider all noise receptors at the time they make their site plan public” rather than, as previously, at the time of construction. What this means to a property owner who might want to build a house within the setback area after a project is announced but hasn’t yet broken ground is that developers won’t be required, as they were in the past, to move the turbine to comply with the setback regulation.
Other amendments include:
• changing the definition of a noise receptor, to dwelling, from overnight accommodation;
• requiring developers of all renewable energy projects to deliver written notice of a proposed project to landowners within 550 metres of its location. (Previously, developers were required to notify landowners within 120 metres of a project);
• extending the municipal consultation period to 90 days before the final public meetings and providing draft reports 60 days before the final public meeting; and
• requiring Class 3, 4 and 5 wind project developers to conduct a specification report that presents acoustic emissions data that complies with Canadian Standards Association standards.
Laforet notes there are several amendments coming down the pipes and one of his main issues with them and the Renewable Energy Approvals regulations is that the provincial government “has said in writing they don’t know what they’re doing as it relates to regulating noise” and don’t know how to measure the noise to determine compliance. “So what value are regulations written by a government that can’t enforce them even if they wanted to?”
Colette McLean, who cash crops about 145 acres near Harrow in Essex County, says there’s a lot of lip service to say municipalities have their say but they don’t. It’s the province rather than municipalities who is in charge of delivering green power project approvals, she notes.
McLean has four wind turbines within one kilometre of her home and 24 within five kilometres. She’s concerned about the impact on her own and her family’s health. She also worries that green energy projects will have on the province’s electrical rates and how the local wind turbines will affect her property values.
Research in the United States shows up to 40 per cent reduction in values for properties near wind projects and some have had to abandon their homes. “Naturally I don’t want that to happen,” she says.
Ted Cowan, a farm policy researcher with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says he hasn’t had an opportunity to fully review the regulations, calls the changes “modest improvements” and says they may help to clarify some areas the federation had flagged as concerns. One of these was the expansion of the area to which notification of a project has to be sent.
Cowan says they may also clarify that the greater setback requirement of 550 metres will be applied to all residences. “The old regulations had an implicit waiver for the homes that were on land where a person had signed a lease and we felt that that implicit waiver was wrong,” he says. “Noise protection is something that everyone deserves.”
Marnie Dawson, manager of renewable energy approvals for Samsung Renewable Energy says she likes the amendments, calling them “more beneficial” to developers. Expanding the areas in which developers will have to send notice to property owners is good because it will make people more aware of projects, she says. The impact to developers having to comply with this change “is minimal, really,” she says.
Jennifer Green, executive coordinator of the Agri-Energy Producers’ Association of Ontario, says the changes won’t have dramatic or immediate impact on those generating farm-based biogas. The amendments are listed on the province’s environmental registry.