Site specific soil studies needed: Burkett
Severn digs for info on solar farms
By Kristen Smith, Orillia Packet & Times July 30, 2012
SEVERN TOWNSHIP – The mayor of Severn Township wants to see proof two solar farms are not being built on prime farmland.
Mike Burkett is asking to see soil studies provided by solar development company Recurrent Energy to the Ontario Power Authority as part of its Feed in Tariff (FIT) application for projects Waubaushene 4 and 5, located on Quarry Road and Taylor Line.
Burkett said he — and Severn council — are asking for the site-specific soil studies as a reassurance “fertile food land” is not being built on.
“We are not opposed to green energy and we want to work with our provincial partners,” said Burkett.
The Green Energy Act specifies FIT projects are not to be built on Class 1 or 2 agricultural land and places a cap on the amount, which can be built on Class 3 land.
If the land proposed for a project has multiple Canadian Land Inventory (CLI) classifications — including Class 1, 2 or 3 land — the FIT application must include a site-specific soil study. That study must be performed by an independent qualified soil scientist.
Burkett said these studies are a matter of public interest, the land has produced healthy soy crops in the past and his constituents have expressed concern.
He said the CLI, which is used as the authority in determining the value of the land, is widely held to be out of date and incomplete.
“This makes current site-specific data all the more important,” he said.
Burkett granted Recurrent Energy entrance permits while under the impression he would be provided with the documents he was requesting.
He said he is being left out of the loop.
Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop agrees Burkett should be privy to the information, as the mayor has the right to know whether they are building solar farms on good soil.
“From Day 1, the Green Energy Act eliminated the municipalities,” Dunlop said, noting it stripped the municipality of authority it would have in any other planning matter.
He said development companies basically have a clear path; they only need approval from the Ontario Power Authority.
He said these projects see a lot of opposition no matter where they are located, but there is no public input through the municipality.
“It’s not good planning. Planning has always had local input, public meetings,” said Dunlop.
“(The energy development companies) have a public meeting and it’s a gong show. They are the public meeting. They just tell you what they want and they go ahead and do what they want,” he said.
“It is not good for rural Ontario if you’re chewing up good farmland. It’s worse when the municipal council, who was duly elected by the citizens, has no say in planning matters,” said Dunlop.
“(Energy projects) are a change of use of the land, plain and simple, and there should be municipal input,” he said.
Brett James, spokesperson for Recurrent Energy, said a soil summary report had been made available to the mayor and the public.
He said Colville Consulting was chosen from a list of certified soil scientists.
The site-specific soil study was provided to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), and includes the involved procedures, but James could not speak to what these procedures included, or whether soil samples were taken.
A representative of the consulting firm did not respond to requests for comment.
“That report was submitted to OPA and satisfied their requirements in terms of confirming the use of appropriate land for the building of the project,” said James.
“We’ve been consistent all along. Everything that was required to be provided to satisfy the requirements was provided to the OPA and they have confirmed that it met the requirements,” he said.
“Everything that is required to be disclosed publicly, we have provided. That’s everything that is going to be provided,” added James.
OPA spokesperson Tim Butters said the power authority is not able to release a document provided in relation to a FIT project.
“The soil study is a commercially confidential submission to the OPA by the developer, which cannot be released without their permission,” Butters said in an email.
He said evidence must be provided to the OPA, which includes a map showing the site, classifications and the portion of the site where the facility will be located.
Burkett is questioning why documents related to a FIT project are even confidential.Dunlop pointed out Burkett wants assurance good farmland in his municipality is not being misused.
“If anybody in the province should have a chance to see that, it should be the mayor of those municipalities… whether it’s private or not,” he said.