MARYSVILLE — Recent changes to how the Ontario Provincial Police bill municipalities for service could have a major impact on rural townships that are home to wind turbines.
More than six years after the turbines on Wolfe Island became operational, Frontenac Islands Township council was surprised in December when it received a bill for policing from the Leeds County OPP.
“They charge us the same in this new policing formula for a wind tower as they do for a house,” Mayor Denis Doyle said. “It costs us a lot of money.”
Frontenac Islands Township pays an average of about $300 per household for policing, meaning new policing fees for the wind turbines properties added almost $26,000 to the township’s policing bill for 2016.
“We were dumbfounded why our rate went up so much,” Doyle said, adding that township staff had to go back through the bill to find out the reason for the increase. “That’s gone way up from what we were expecting.”
Ontario sets tax rates on different types of properties depending on their use. Residential and commercial properties pay the full amount of property tax, while land being used for farming or forestry pay 25 per cent of the tax rate.
Properties where wind turbines are located can only be taxed at a rate of five per cent of the full tax rate, Doyle said.
Many rural municipalities in Ontario have been struggling under rapidly rising policing costs, which have increased because of increases in wages and benefits in recent years. A few rural townships also face the prospect of having industrial wind energy projects built in their townships, whether welcome or not.
A spokesperson for the OPP Corporate Communications in Orillia said the cost for policing wind turbines is being looked at by the provincial government.
“At present, the issue of wind turbines is being reviewed and we expect a decision from the ministry in the near future,” said OPP Sgt. Peter Leon. “Until that decision is made, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”
North Frontenac Mayor Ron Higgins said he knew cellphone towers were considered residences for police billing purposes.
“But I didn’t know wind turbines were included,” he said.
Last summer, North Frontenac declined to support a project that could see as many as 52 wind turbines built in the township as part of a proposed development that is part of Ontario’s push to expand the amount of renewable energy being produced in the province. If approved, the 52 turbines would add about $15,600 to the township’s policing costs.
North Frontenac residents also pay about $300 a year on average for policing.
“Every $30,000 is one per cent added to our levy,” Higgins said.
The rate has shifted to the rural centres paying more than the urban centres.
“It used to be unfair for urban, now it’s unfair for rural. There is no happy medium,” Higgins said. “We realize the cost is there, but let’s make it fair for urban and rural.”
In Addington Highlands Township at the north end of Lennox and Addington County, a sister project to the North Frontenac wind energy proposal could bring about 100 turbines to the municipality. A second proposed project in that township could involve about 80 turbines.
Both of the companies proposing those projects have offered Addington Highlands Township compensation.
In August, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change gave conditional approval to the Amherst Island wind energy project, which could bring as many as 26 turbines to the island. That project is the subject to an ongoing Environmental Review Tribunal hearing.
Loyalist Township residents pay on average about $337 for policing, so, if built, the Amherst Island wind turbines would add more than $8,700 to the township’s annual policing costs.
In December, Loyalist Township council approved a community benefit agreement with Windlectric Inc. that is to see the company provide the township with more than $500,000 a year to help offset “the impact that the wind project will have on Loyalist Township, particularly Amherst Island and its residents.”