COLLINGWOOD – Council will appeal the development of wpd Fairview Wind Farm, a controversial wind turbine project the town says is too close to its airport.
The fight against the development of the wpd Fairview Wind Farm is going into extra rounds after Collingwood council voted to initiate an appeal against a ministry decision to green light the controversial project.
After hearing the challenges faced when launching an appeal with the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Climate Change's decision from Richard Butler, a lawyer with Willms and Shier environmental law firm, council voted unanimously in favour of an appeal.
Butler informed council that it only had 15 days after the initial decision to appeal, setting the deadline for Feb. 26.
Wpd Canada was granted approval by the ministry Feb. 11, a day before Clearview Township and Collingwood were to have a court hearing.
“An important statistic to know is that there has been 199 renewable energy projects put forward to the Ministry of Environment for approval; of those the ministry has only refused two,” Butler said. “There have been approximately 120 appeals, most have either been abandoned or unsuccessful, only two have been accepted.”
Butler said in 2009 the original proposal had the wind farm project just south of the present plan, and outside of sphere on influence on the flight paths for the Collingwood Regional Airport. The plan was abandoned and a new proposal puts five of the turbines closer to the airport and impacts the operating airspace.
Since then Collingwood Airport Services board has sent letters and commissioned an expert report identifying concerns for safety and usability of the airport.
Collingwood would have to present expert evidence that there would be serious harm over the lifetime of the wind project. (to overturn the MOE decision)
“I think that we can all agree that planes hitting or being blown off course as a result of a wind turbine would meet serious harm to human health argument,” said Butler. “What Collingwood would have to show is that on the balance of probability it is more likely than not during the lifetime of the turbines there would be a collision. That really is the test that the Environment Revue Tribune (ERT) will look for.”
“I think we know what we have to do to protect our assets,” said Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, who tabled the motion. “It was discouraging to hearing that out of 199 applications at first instance only two have been rejected, but the statistic on the appeals, only two were successful but others have settled along the way.”
One contentious element of the nearly 10-year application was that initially the wind turbines were to be outside Collingwood Regional Airport’s flight paths, but changed when the plan was resubmitted in June of 2011.
According to wpd Canada’s communications manager Kevin Surette, the original proposal was abandoned because accessory structures built by nearby landowners would have put the turbines in the original proposal within the 550-metre setback.
“Although the ministry told us that they wouldn’t qualify as receptors in the Green Energy Act, we took advantage of some additional properties that were available through the Beattie Brothers and came up with a new layout” said Surette. “Even though all the advice we got from our lawyers and the MOE said it wouldn't be an issue we moved them so that there wouldn’t be an issue.” The size of the turbines has also been an issue with the wind farm opponents in general. They will be larger by 20 metres at the hub than the 80 metre turbines in Shelburne.
“The turbines will be 100 metres tall to the hub and the blades will be another 45 metres,” said Surette. “The height of the turbines actually has to do with the technology, as the technology advances the hub heights are getting taller, because the higher the blades are in the air there is less turbulence, so you are able to more cleanly generate electricity.”
“At 100 metres the winds are a little bit stronger and you will generate a little more electricity than you would at 80 metres, so you can generate the same amount of electricity with fewer turbines,” said Surette
“The course of action that we have taken, is to do this in a staged approach and you can’t get in the game without initiating the appeal and then we will marshall our evidence and see how things move forward,” said Saunderson.
Council was told that there are really only two elements the appeal tribunal will consider, which include serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life of the natural environment and the endangerment of human life.
Members of the Collingwood Services Board said from the audience there have been at least two fatal instances in the United States where planes have collided with wind turbines.
“I think that we have a very valid case, I think that our case is very different from those appeals that we heard about,” said Coun. Mike Edwards, who is also chair of the airport services board.
“I think if we can get the tribunal to hear all of the facts, and really the type of airport that we have, this is a busy airport, this is a growing airport and the community is growing.”
Collingwood Airport used to be designated as an airport until Transport Canada encouraged board members to give up their designation to help streamline Transport Canada’s workload in reporting.
“When you look at the air above, it is still airplanes flying into this airport regardless of whether you are certified or uncertified so why should there be two different standards." said Edwards.
“It’s no surprise that an appeal was launched,” said Surette. “Anyone has the right to appeal, including municipalities. We accept that. Each side will put forward their evidence and an independent panel will decide.”
Wpd Canada had hoped to begin sourcing contractors and start construction by the summer, however the appeal will alter its schedule. ERT will have to render a decision within six months from the date the appeal was requested. But in the meantime, Surette said there is nothing preventing it from preparing the site.