Minden Hills council denied support resolutions for a number of proposed solar feed-in tariff (FIT) projects during an Oct. 27 meeting and will put a moratorium on hearing the applications.
Half a dozen FIT applications came before council during an Oct. 27 meeting. While municipal councils do not have authority over whether applications are approved – that authority belongs to the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – applications earn “priority points” in the IESO’s evaluation process by receiving support resolutions from local councils.
Last year Minden Hills council struck a renewable energy task force for the township which was tasked with creating a renewable energy policy; a framework through which council would judge the merit of applications in its consideration of awarding support resolutions.
That renewable energy policy Policy 100 was approved in principle by council in June and was used by planner Ian Clendening in his evaluation of the proposals.
“I evaluated the proposals the best I could using Policy 100” Clendening told councillors. “I interpreted it as being broadly permissive.”
Of six proposals Clendening had recommended all but one – an application for a solar installation of up to five acres along Sandy Bay Road near Gull Lake – receive support resolutions.
Council however was not comfortable granting them citing concerns about the FIT program’s short approval window (a two-month turnaround) aesthetics and lack of benefit for municipalities.
“In light of the previous proposals . . . and thanks to the provincial government’s manner” Councillor Jeanne Anthon said she couldn’t support any of the proposals.
“I feel there is no oversight on how much tree cover is going to be lost” Anthon said. “I cannot in good conscience approve any of these proposals coming forward. I will not support them in any case.”
Other councillors were in agreement.
“The province and the IESO has given us a no-win situation” said Councillor Pam Sayne who reiterated she believes renewable energy projects should be absorbed into the Ontario Planning Act thereby giving municipalities more control.
Referring to a stack of notes Sayne who was instrumental in the creation of the renewable energy task force and who chairs its meetings said she’d prepared a “dissertation.”
“You’re not reading a dissertation” said Reeve Brent Devolin. “You have 60 seconds.”
Sayne went on to say she thought a flawed process from the province which allows little time for evaluation by municipalities needed to be improved and that the township needed something that was easier for staff to work with.
“We may be looking at white elephants instead of deer in our fields” she said.
“I think there’s a huge correction coming in this process” Devolin said.
The reeve has said on numerous occasions he believes the current round of the FIT program FIT 5 will be the last round of the FIT program as it has existed.
In September the Wynne government announced it would scrap some $3.8 billion worth of renewable energy projects in favour of saving Ontarians an average of $2.45 off their Hydro One bills.
Devolin also reiterated his criticism that while property owners renewable energy companies and the province benefit from FIT projects the local governments in whose jurisdictions the facilities are constructed do not.
“We do not get one dime of assessment” he said.
Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch agreed the township needs to look out for its own interests.
“I don’t think anybody can argue against renewable energy” Murdoch said. “There are a lot of questions being asked and we don’t have the answers. We need to be a little bit selfish. What are we going to get out of this?’
Councils decided they would put a “pause” on hearing any more FIT program proposals until changes are made at the provincial level.
“We’re not saying no to this forever we’re saying no to it for now” Devolin said.
Clendening said he understood that council was reticent to provide resolutions under a provincial process it deems flawed but cautioned that the granting or refusal or support motions were municipalities’ only input on the process.
“Ultimately the approval authority is with the IESO” Clendening said. “[Applicants] will stop asking for a support resolution . . . and maybe not deal with the Township of Minden Hills at all.”