Wellington County finally sets its wind turbine policies

After many months, Wellington County coun­cil has formally approved its policy for hydro generation by wind power.

Council passed an official plan amendment at its June meet­ing to make formal all the rules for wind turbines.

There was only one person who addressed council the day it made its decision. Gary Pundsack, of Energy Wind Can­ada, told council his com­pany has been planning for wind energy in Mapleton since 2004. “I’m very keen to get started,” he said, noting that phase one has 14 turbines and he hopes to begin this fall.

Pundsack was active with officials in developing the official plan amendment, and his only con­cern was the county’s concern about prime farmland. He said one policy does not belong, and he is concerned about some reforestation re­quire­ments.

Mapleton, like other places in Wellington, plants a lot of trees, and those serve eventually as windbreaks. That goes against the collection of wind through turbines. “In [situating] turbines, there’s a fair number of con­straints we have to deal with,” he said. But, he added, otherwise, the amendment is “very good.”

County planner Gary Cous­ins said the county had bene­fited from Pundsack’s com­ments when it prepared the amendment, and it gathered comments from groups like Trees for Wellington. Wind­breaks “are an obvious concern.”

Cousins said reforesting is one of many concerns from public meetings, particularly when locating the turbines. The county’s rules offer “fairly cautious wording” and that will “minimize the effect of refores­tation.

Planning committee chair­man Walter Trachsel said, “On balance, it [reforestation] will have very little effect on wind energy.”

The amendment stated al­ter­native energy systems and renewable energy systems will be permitted in the urban and rural system in accordance with provincial and federal re­quire­ments. “These systems should be sited, designed, and construct­ed to minimize impacts on agri­cultural operations, enjoy­ment of property, sensitive land uses, and the greenlands system.

The county is recognizing three sizes of systems:

– a micro wind energy sys­tem that consists of one wind turbine on a lot with nameplate capacity of 5 kilowatts (kW) or less;

– a small sys­tem with one or more wind turbine on a lot and a capacity of more than 5 and less than 100kW; and

– a large one with one or more turbines on a lot or an array of multiple turbines on multiple lots with a capacity of 100kW or more.

The policies are intended to provide orderly and com­pati­ble development of systems and en­sure a co­ordi­nated, integrat­ed, and com­prehensive ap­proach to wind energy development. The county stated flatly that wind energy systems may not be permitted in the greenlands system.

Micro systems may be per­mitted in the rural and urban system, subject to zoning.

The criteria are:

– adequate setback from ad­joining properties and sensitive land uses, to ensure compati­bility and to meet provincial noise standards;

– notwithstanding that, where the tower is shared by two abutting property owners, the tower may be located on the property line;

– adequate setback from greenlands to ensure no ad­verse impacts;

– local zoning bylaws may set out the appropriate zone cate­gories in which to permit micro wind energy systems, and establish general provi­sions such as setbacks, mini­mum lot sizes and height re­stric­tions to ensure compati­bility and safety of the micro systems; and

– a local municipality may require an amendment to the local zoning bylaw to permit a micro system, and may require documentation or studies neces­­sary to demonstrate that location, criteria for safety and compatibility will be met, and any other information deemed relevant by council.

The amendment noted, “Al­though micro wind energy systems are allowed in residen­tial areas, many residential properties may not be of suffi­cient size to provide adequate setbacks for safety and noise. So, other renewable en­ergy systems such as solar may be more appropriate.”

The small sys­tems may be permitted on prime agricultural, secondary agricultural, rural industrial, highway commer­cial, or recre­ational, and in the urban system on lands designated industrial or highway commercial. They face the same criteria for placement as the micro  systems.

The county staged large wind systems “may be per­mitted” in rural areas on lands designated prime agricultural, secondary agricultural, rural industrial, highway commer­cial, and in the urban areas on lands designated industrial or highway commercial. That per­mission means they must be located in accordance with a wide number of re­stric­tions:

– well separated from urban centres, hamlets, county resi­dential areas, and lifestyle com­munities;

– within 1km of an urban centre or hamlet the applicant will demonstrate the system would not impede efficient urban expansion;

– well separated from sen­sitive land uses, including resi­dences;

– on large parcels with suffi­cient on-site setbacks for noise mitigation and safety relative to falling ice, ice throw, or tower collapse;

– where a turbine is shared by two abutting property own­ers or where abutting lots are under lease with the same wind farm developer, the tower may be located on the property line;

– it must be located as to minimize if possible the dis­placement of prime agricul­tural land and interference with agricultural operations;

– with appropriate setbacks from the greenlands system;

– preferably not within migratory bird migration routes or adjacent to that habitat;

– no closer than 10km from an established aerodrome, reg­is­tered aerodrome, or certified airport, and at least 4km from both the centre points of the runways and the ends of the runways of the Guelph Airpark or York Soar­ing Club;

– consideration may be giv­ing to allowing turbine access lanes to be established on un­opened road allowances where appropriate, and where agricul­tural and-or environmental impacts would be reduced; and

– any turbine within 800m of a provincial highway may re­quire a permit from the Ontario Ministry of Trans­porta­tion, and the province may re­strict access to the highway and require appropriate setbacks.

The amendment stated all turbines will be developed with regard to the Building Code, and for a large wind energy system there are set plans and studies that must be done, an assessment of environmental im­pacts, including on migratory birds, planning impact, agricultural impact for prime land, a visual study to determine effects such as shadow flicker or reflection of light from any part of the tur­bine.

The county will require at least five more studies, and the amendment stated that without those being completed, an application will not be consid­ered complete.

The amendment pro­vides policies for holding zones that can include an executive contract to allow a large scale generating system to be con­nected to the electrical grid.

The county is leaving con­trol of test towers mainly in the hands of lower tier munici­palities.

They may be permitted on a permanent basis subject to a zoning amendment. Local zon­ing bylaws may permit wind testing towers on a tem­porary basis, without the need for a rezoning, subject to provi­sions that limit the time period and require removal once that period has expired.

Finally, local municipalities may choose to have site plan control and agreements, at their discretion.