All comments received were reviewed by the ministry and considered during the review of the application. These comments have been summarized below:
Concerns related to health effects
The Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health’s report concluded that scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. Scientific evidence to date indicates that, at the typical setback distances in Ontario, there is no direct health risk from wind turbine noise, including low frequency noise and infrasound.
The MOE has reviewed the proponent’s Consultation Report and deemed that it satisfies the legislative requirements outlined in O. Reg. 359/09.
The proponent met the consultation requirements of O. Reg. 359/09 including hosting two public meetings, releasing draft REA reports for public review, and numerous meetings with local residents, government agencies and Aboriginal communities. In addition, a project newsletter providing updates on the project was published in the local newspaper throughout the planning of the project.
MOE has imposed a condition in the REA requiring the proponent to create a Community Liaison Committee for the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm project. This Community Liaison Committee will be made up of individuals in the community and company representatives. The aim of the committee will be to act as a liaison, facilitating two way communications between the Company and members of the public with respect to the project. It will provide a forum for the Company to provide regular updates to the community.
Concerns about Project location and siting of turbines
The proponent has identified the current area as being the location of the proposed project due to various factors including a good wind resource, available land base (acceptance of local land owners through the signing of option agreements), proximity to load center, and availability of capacity in the local electrical grid to accept electricity generated by the Project.
The project has been reviewed and determined to meet all applicable setback requirements.
Concerned about setbacks from residents
The range of setback distances for wind facilities with one or more specified turbine(s) is provided in the table in Section 55 of O. Reg. 359/09. The table of noise setbacks is used to illustrate the closest distance the base of any turbine can be from the nearest noise receptor. The minimum setback distance of 550 metres (m) must be met in all cases and greater numbers of turbines may result in higher required setback distances applied to the nearest turbine.
Proponents are also given the option of conducting a noise impact assessment to prove that siting turbines closer than the setback distances (but no closer than 550 m) in the table to Section 55 of O. Reg. 359/09 will not cause adverse effects. Such a study must be prepared in accordance with the MOE’s Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms (2008) and must be submitted as part of the REA application.
The setback distances are based on the MOE’s conservative sound level limit of 40 dBA at the nearest noise receptor. This stringent 40 dBA sound level limit has been used in Ontario for the approval of industrial facilities built in rural areas for the past 30 years. Furthermore, this sound level limit is consistent with the World Health Organization’s recommendation that the outdoor annual average night sound level should not exceed 40 dBA.
Impact on property values
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is the provincial agency that determines property assessment values. MPAC’s analysis of property sales has not indicated that wind turbines that are either abutting or close to a property have either a positive or negative impact on the value.
On March 29, 2012, the Assessment Review Board, an independent tribunal of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, released a decision regarding a property on Wolfe Island. The Board found that based on the evidence in this case there appeared to be no evidence of any negative impact to the value of the property.
MPAC continues to monitor property values in areas where wind turbine are present and will reflect any impact to property values in the 2012 province-wide Assessment Update.
Wind turbines do not generate adequate electricity and are not efficient
The Province of Ontario has identified wind as one component of a diversified energy mix for the province, as identified in Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan. The Ontario Power Authority, the agency responsible for supply procurement, and the Independent Electricity System Operator, the agency responsible for the reliability of Ontario electricity system, have both researched, modeled and proposed a target for wind (10% by 2030) that ensures an efficient and reliable system supply to meet Ontario electricity demands while satisfying the Government’s and the Ontario public’s goals for new supply.
Safety of Wind Turbines
MOE has built safety requirements into O. Reg 359/09. For wind facilities, a proponent must meet section 53 of O. Reg. 359/09, which prohibits a proponent to place a turbine closer than the height of the turbine to a property boundary. The applicant prepared a Property Line Setback Assessment (PLSA), as three turbines were closer than hub height. MOE staff have reviewed the PLSA and determined that it meets regulatory requirements. Further, a condition has been imposed on the REA to operate and maintain the facility in accordance with good engineering practices and as recommended by the equipment suppliers.
The MOE is committed to providing timely services for receiving, assessing, and coordinating responses to all complaints related to potential environmental incidents (including those from wind farms). The MOE’s first level of field response is provided by environmental officers working out of the MOE’s district or area offices. For example, in the case of an incident involving wind farm operations noise that has resulted in a complaint call into the MOE, the District staff will attempt to verify the complaint and assess the impact on the complainant, which may include several visits to the complainant’s residence at various times of the day. After the site assessment is completed, District staff will decide whether actions need to be taken to resolve the situation.
Since September 2009, the MOE has been proactively inspecting existing wind facilities in Ontario. Inspections include an evaluation of approval requirements such as equipment location, operation and maintenance requirements, records related to environmental complaints, measures taken to address the cause of complaints and compliance with transformer sound level limits. Additionally, to follow up on citizen’s complaints about wind turbine noise, Environmental Officers will attend wind facilities and make an assessment as to whether wind turbine noise is causing an adverse effect on neighbouring residents.
The MOE uses a progressive suite of enforcement tools to ensure wind farms operate in compliance with approval conditions. This includes both voluntary and mandatory abatement measures to address non-compliance. The manner in which the complaint is addressed may vary from site to site and can include continued noise monitoring, a noise reduction plan and shutting down turbines. The MOE also regularly inspects projects to ensure compliance. If these proactive inspections trigger the need for additional noise monitoring, the MOE will use the tools in the new protocol to ensure noise limits are adhered to by wind farms. .
MOE noise engineers have reviewed the noise impact assessment provided by the applicant and have confirmed that the project will meet the ministry’s standards for wind facilties. Further, the noise assessment and the facility meet the requirements of O. Reg 359/09.
The noise impact assessment was carried out in accordance with “Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms,” MOE, 2008.
If the public has any noise concerns, incidents to report, or has any complaints they would like to raise relating to a wind farm operation, they should contact their local District or Area Office. The MOE’s first level of field response is provided by environmental officers working out of the MOE’s district or area offices.
As part of the REA approval, there will be a decommissioning condition. This condition requires the proponent to comply with all commitments made in the REA documentation. Further, consultation with the local District Manager of the MOE will be required in order to meet all the requirements at the time of decommissioning.
The MOE has included a condition for the proponent to contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, prior to decommissioning of the facility, in order to discuss the proponent’s decommissioning plan and the appropriate method to return the lands to agricultural production.
Moratorium on wind turbines
When developing the Renewable Energy Approvals regulation, the MOE drew upon extensive existing scientific research from around the world. Reviewing a large body of peer-reviewed reports and studies enabled the MOE to develop a regulation that was based on the best available science to protect human health and the environment. The MOE continues to review emerging scientific and engineering studies to ensure Ontario's REA regulation remains in line with the latest and best in science.
It is recognized that people have varying opinions about the changes a wind farm will bring to the visual landscape. Wind turbines and the associated infrastructure take up only a small portion of the land on which they are situated.
Concerns related to shadow flicker
Although not required in O. Reg. 359/09, the proponent completed a Shadow Flicker Assessment for the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm project. This was included in the proponent’s Environmental Screening Report under the previous regulatory process.
Support for the project
Comments noted and considered.
Concerns about Aboriginal consultation
The Consultation report that was submitted with the application thoroughly documents the process, activities, and results of the consultation process implemented for the project. The Aboriginal communities that were identified on the Aboriginal consultation list were contacted at various points throughout the planning of the project and input was requested.
MOE reviewed the Aboriginal consultation program which was conducted and determined that the consultation program was sufficient in meeting the requirements of O. Reg. 359/09.
Conditions have also been imposed requiring the proponent to maintain ongoing communications with interested Aboriginal communities.
Concerns about the length of time of the EBR comment period
Most proposals for instruments are posted on the Environmental Registry for 30-days. Additional public participation opportunities may be provided at the discretion of ministry decision-makers after taking into consideration such factors as the complexity of the proposal in question, level of public interest, and extent and nature of mitigation measures that may be required to prevent harm to the environment.
The ministry determined that a 60-day public review period was a sufficient amount of time for the public to provide comments on this project. This was further extended to 64-days, as the Environmental Registry had some technical issues and was not available for 4 days.
The noise report identified several vacant lots. The MOE review determined that the noise impact assessment of the vacant lot receptors is consistent with O. Reg 359/09 and Guidelines.
The government recognizes the importance of local interest with respect to specific matters related to municipal land, infrastructure, services and information. For this reason, an applicant of a renewable energy must consult with local municipalities prior to applying for a Renewable Energy Approval.
Given the importance of municipal consultation, there are specific requirements for municipal consultation outlined in O. Reg. 359/09. Consultation with the municipality must take place at the early stage of the REA process. Furthermore, the MOE has created a Municipal Consultation Form which the applicant must use to document project-specific matters raised by the municipality, and how these were addressed. This form was submitted to the MOE as part of the application.
Concerns regarding impact to the local economy
The Green Energy Act has a 50% domestic content requirement which requires developers to spend at least 50% of project costs in Ontario. This requirement often provides local employment opportunities during the construction phase of the projects. There are various economic benefits to the Municipality including monies spent locally during construction on goods and services, and contribution to the annual municipal property taxes.
Concerns about impacts from construction
The applicant prepared a construction plan report which outlined how the company would minimize any potential impacts from construction or traffic.
The MOE has reviewed and imposed conditions relating to stormwater management and traffic management to ensure that these impacts are minimized.
Concerns about impacts to natural environment
Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has reviewed the Natural Heritage Assessment and provided a Confirmation Letter as per section 28 (2) of O. Reg 359/09. The MNR Confirmation Letter for this project confirms that the applicant used appropriate evaluation criteria or procedures accepted by the MNR for the determination of the existence and boundaries of natural features; site investigation and records review; and, evaluation of the significance or provincial significance of the natural features.
Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process includes clear requirements to ensure consideration and protection for natural heritage features, including 120 metre setbacks to significant bird and bat habitats. The process also includes requirements for monitoring and mitigation of potential negative effects to birds, bats and their habitats. The developer must identify any negative impacts the REA project may have to natural features and develop measures to mitigate those effects.
An Environmental Effects Monitoring Plan (EEMP) for bird and bat monitoring has been completed and provided to MNR for review and comment. Conditions have been included in the approval for the applicant to implement its EEMP for birds and bats as submitted as part of the application, and to implement mitigation and monitoring as outlined in the EEMP included within the Design and Operations Report. This monitoring plan has been reviewed and approved by MNR.
Archaeological and Cultural Heritage concerns
Stage 1 and 2 archaeological assessments were conducted and the results have indicated no concerns with proceeding with construction at the project location. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has signed off on the results and findings of the Stage 1 and Stage 2 Archaeological Assessments. The net effect to archaeological and heritage resources are considered minimal given the mitigation measures used to document and recover any potential archaeological materials.
Future Development/Use of Hunt Camps
During the technical review, MOE staff requested that the applicant prepare a memo outlining in further detail how hunt camps were considered. The applicant conducted a review of the site based on camps that would fall within thin the 550m window and the owners were contacted either by telephone or email. Of the building permits that were acquired from the municipality only two fell within this distance setback. These two permits were on Lot 9 Conc 2 and Lot 19 Conc 3 of Howland Township.
The applicant approached the Municipality for an update on these permits. The Chief Building Official confirmed that there are no active building permits for these properties, and no structures built on them.
MOE is satisfied that the applicant has adequately assessed and considered all potential hunt camps in the area and made an accurate determination that they do not qualify as receptors for the purposes of the noise assessment.
Out of scope comments
A number of comments were received that were not project specific. As they did not pertain to the project, MOE staff did not consider these comments in the decision making process.
Note – This is the end of the decision notice. Please disregard the “Leave to Appeal Provisions” section below.