The Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) gave the green light to the Settlers’ Landing Wind Turbine project, a 10 megawatt wind project located west of Pontypool on Telecom Rd. This is the fourth project approved for the City of Kawartha Lakes, three of which are located on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
After receiving initial approval, this project had been under review since an appeal launched by local wind opponents organized under the corporate umbrella called SLWP Opposition Corp. put the project on hold. In its May 22nd 2015 decision, the ERT required changes to the project as they found the original project design was deemed to pose serious harm to human health as well as serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment.
In its November 19th decision to delay the project, the ERT identified several aspects of the project as troubling, specifically the construction and decommissioning of 2 of the 5 turbines and the access road to turbine 5 which severed a significant woodlot habitat in two. The Tribunal allowed the parties to make submissions regarding a remedy proposal to alleviate the concerns surrounding the protection of a specific woodland area to ensure it provided adequate protection of the habitat for animal life and the natural environment. The explained that because the project involved development inside a designated significant woodland protected by the ORMCP, “extra consideration” was to be afforded the affected area.
The decision states that the amended proposal is consistent with the purposes and principles of the Environmental Protection Act and is in the public interests. The required modifications include the elimination of one of the turbines and its access road, the reduction of the vegetation clearing area required to accommodate the turbines and their access roads, and improvements to the size and functioning of the woodland through an enhanced woodland rehabilitation program.
In its decision, the Tribunal agreed with the expert testimony provided by the project developer that the expanded and enhanced woodland rehabilitation plans requiring extensive transplanting of a variety of trees including mature nursery stock together with the outlined maintenance program will result in the establishment of a functioning woodland during the life of the project.
The Appellant group is understandably demoralized, having felt some optimism in hearing the closing arguments at the September Remedy Hearing. At that time the lawyer for the Ministry of the Environment had suggested to the Tribunal that they could remove the turbines which had been identified as the cause of the irreversible harm and allow the wind developer to proceed with the remaining three turbines. This decision would have resulted in the cancellation of the project as it would no longer have met the FIT capacity requirement. The onus had shifted to the developer to prove that their remedy was adequate to address the issues raised by the appellants.
While it was not the decision they had hoped for, the appellants got further than most local opposition groups, being one of only three appellants in the country who have won an ERT Hearing. Their appeal succeeded in several ways: by eliminating one of the five turbines which was viewed as posing the biggest risk to the woodland; by removing one of the connecting roads that would have cleared a large area of forest; and by forcing the developer to create a significant woodland area incorporating a significant number of mature tree specimens.
The roller coaster ride has left the opposition group discouraged and facing the financial reality of empty coffers once again, so while they have not thrown in the towel yet, they are exploring their options. In the meantime, their actions have delayed this project by several years, which may prove to be critical in the coming months. The province seems to be starting to recognize the growing opposition to soaring hydro rates driven in part by lucrative green energy contracts. KG