By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills councillors have voted against a support resolution for a solar farm near the Allsaw flats proposed by the Oakville-based Algonquin Power Company.
Back in June council was approached by company reps looking for a support resolution for a 300-acre 40- to 50-megawatt solar farm north of County Road 21 near Allsaw.
Municipal support resolutions help companies gain points with the provincial government in their applications for projects under Ontario feed-in-tariff (FIT) program.
During an Aug. 27 meeting Algonquin project manager Evan Koebel returned with a scaled-down project proposal this one a 15-megawatt farm 87 acres in size.
Also changed was the amount of money the township would receive through a “community vibrancy fund agreement” with the company.
While the company had originally proposed Minden Hills receive a one-time payment of $2000 per megawatt (for a total payment between $80000 and $100000) the new proposal had the township receiving $2000 per megawatt on an annual basis throughout the lifespan of the project – so $600000 over the estimated 20-year lifespan.
With the property taxes the township would collect Koebel noted the project would generate nearly $1 million for the municipality during two decades.
As the clearing of forest to make way for the facility had been a concern expressed by residents during a public meeting on the project the company was also promising to replant an acre of trees for every acre it removed either at a township-owned location or elsewhere.
“We are committed to doing that” Koebel told councillors. “We understand there’s no zero-impact development. It’s about how that development is done.”
As they had previously councillors expressed concern over the decommissioning of the project when its lifespan was up and Councillor Lisa Schell wondered what would happen if the company happened to go under during the next couple of decades.
Koebel said in that case the inherent value of the project would basically ensure it was picked up by another company but added the company could include a security right off the top for decommissioning.
Councillor Pam Sayne noted some area resident had been approached by representatives hired by the company.
“Were you aware that some of them were offered money to sign agreements?” Sayne asked.
Koebel said yes that a common criticism is that FIT projects benefit the landowner and company but not neighbours and that the company was “trying to spread the compensation around.”
“Typically it’s what the landowners ask for” Koebel said.
Councillor Jean Neville was concerned about any species at risk that may live in the area the company wants to de-forest and said she knew an area farmer who was concerned the removal of that volume of trees would put sheep at heightened risk of being attacked by coyotes.
Koebel also said the company would retain holding rights – allowing future expansion – on the remainder of the 300-acre property for four years.
These concerns combined with the sheer scope of the project were too much for councillors who voted against the project.
“It’s flawed from the province right from the get-go” said Reeve Brent Devolin of Ontario’s FIT program. Devolin has criticized the program for providing no incentives for municipalities.
Councillor Jeanne Anthon said she’d been disturbed by the number of solar facility proposals coming to the county’s lower tier townships and would like to see the upper tier of Haliburton County initialize some kind of standardized framework for dealing with the applications.
“I have to beg the county [to] please take a look and give us a plan as to how solar should be treated in this county” Anthon said.
The refusal of the support resolution does not mean the project will not get approved by the province but lessens its chances of approval.