CLEARVIEW TWP. — Shock waves are rippling through the region following news that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has given the green light to allow the construction of eight 137-metre wind turbines east of Stayner.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that the (Premier) Kathleen Wynne government would approve this. All of us are in shock, those that fought against this,” said Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson.
The wpd Canada Fairview Wind Project will be constructed on land south and north of County Road 91. According to Transport Canada, the end of the Collingwood Regional Airport runway is 3.1 and 3.2 kilometres away two of the northern turbines.
Officials at the airport, which is owned by the Town on Collingwood on 158 hectares (392 acres) in Clearview, have fought the project from the start, saying turbine height will affect flight paths and pose a danger to pilots in inclement weather.
“If there is a death of someone running into one of these turbines, I’m going to hold Kathleen Wynne accountable,” Wilson said.
Quoting former Collingwood Regional Airport board chairman Charlie Tatham, Wilson said it’s not if someone will get killed, it’s when.
“I agree with that sentiment," Wilson said. "It’s a pilot safety and public safety issue.”
Collingwood Regional Airport board chairman Mike Edwards called the news "unfathomable.
"I’m really shocked," he said. "I can’t believe they would make a decision like that from the information we presented from a safety stand point and from an economic impact standpoint. It boggles my mind."
Airport board officials have said they are not against wind turbines and green energy, but the board is against wind turbines near airports, where student pilots train and, in Collingwood’s case, the area is often beset by lake-effect rain, snow and fog, making for challenging flying conditions without the turbines, Edwards said.
The airport submitted its safety concerns to the ministry long ago.
In January, the Town of Collingwood and Clearview Township jointly submitted an economic impact study showing the negative effects the wind turbines would have both on airport safety and to the region from the loss of business at the proposed Clearview Aviation Business Park, to be built immediately east of the airport.
“It was an excellent study that was very factual and explained the reasons why the wind turbines should not be located in our air space,” Edwards said.
The ministry awarded the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) application Thursday, a day before a Feb. 12 court case between wpd Canada and the ministry. Wpd Canada — which is based in Mississauga and owned by a German company that builds green-energy projects in 18 countries around the world — was taking the government to court because it submitted its REA in September 2012 and had expected a decision by 2015.
Clearview fought and attained intervenor status at the case (which is cancelled) to protest the wind turbines.
“I am extremely disappointed that the ministry of environment has gone ahead in light of all the work we’ve done to show the side effects and how it will impact economic development in Clearview and the County of Simcoe,” said Clearview Mayor Chris Vanderkruys.
“It’s a project that the township was clearly against," he added. "The provincial government doesn’t listen at all. They do what they want. The fact that we had to fight for intervenor status is crazy.
“However, this happened between wpd and the government, they didn’t include us at all,” the mayor added.
Shortly after the approval was granted, wpd Canada issued a press release stating, “We are pleased the ministry has approved the Fairview project. We’re hopeful we can begin construction in relatively short order, using competitively price local labour and services as much as possible,” wrote company spokesman Kevin Surette.
Once constructed, Fairview will feed an estimated 40 million kilowatt hours annually into the local electricity grid, equivalent to the average annual power use of 2,276 homes.
The project has been approved, “subject to prescriptive conditions designed to ensure the safety of pilots who may fly into the Collingwood Regional Airport or Stayner Airfield,” the company stated, adding regulations imposed by NAV Canada, Transport Canada and the ministry will be implemented as required. Approval of the project also includes conditions concerning noise and the environment.
The Fairview project will be built on land owned by farmers John and Andrew Beattie.
In a statement sent to local officials and media Thursday afternoon, they wrote that airport industrial growth should go to the business park located near the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in Oro-Medonte Township, north of Barrie, rather than take up agricultural land adjacent to the Collingwood airport.
Land zoned agricultural and environmental will have to be rezoned and an Official Plan amendment would have to passed by the County of Simcoe; the county, in following the Growth Plan for the Greater Horseshoe within the Places to Grow Act, will find that the business park plans don’t fit within those polices, they wrote.
“In fact, we have been told that such a zoning application would be dead in the water and could not stand up to an Ontario Municipal Board appeal if for some reason Simcoe approved it," read the statement.
“The growth plan aims to, among other things, protect farmland. The previous council was on record as supporting agriculture, but it’s unclear to us how the present council’s intention to remove (89 hectares) of agricultural land achieves this,” they added in the statement.
Vanderkruys said the 107-hectare aviation park land has been in the Official Plan for industrial-related land for about 10 years and that approximately 12 hectares of the land is not agricultural but environmental.