• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Ramara Township council’s vote to support Innergex Renewable Energy’s 600-acre solar project

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In Council Watch
Aug 28th, 2015
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By Tom Villemaire Barrie Examiner
Power struggles are nothing new in Simcoe County.

Last month Ramara Township council voted to support Innergex Renewable Energy’s 600-acre solar project that is predicted to produce 60 megawatts (mW) of power.

As with any power project, there is a power struggle between those who are getting the power and those who feel they have no power to influence what is happening in their community. This proposal has been contentious, dividing residents in the township. Council received a petition with 90 names supporting the project at the end of July, but other meetings have seen residents opposed to the project.

As the Orillia Packet and Times reported, Coun. Erika Neher sided with the opponents of the Ramona solar farm.

“The project itself is great; the location is not,” she said. “People were of the opinion they were going to be in a quiet, residential area. This project is going to close in all that.”

Mayor Basil Clarke initially had trepidation about the project, but ultimately voted in favour of it.

“My concern has always been that I consider it a large-scale industrial use (of) rural land,” he said. “But it’s about as passive an industrial use as you can get. Once these panels are built, they just sit there.”

“It’s less traffic to the area than what would be there with a farm,” Clarke said, adding he’s been assured there will be an adequate buffer between the solar installations and residences.

Also, in the mayor’s opinion, the farmland isn’t great.

“I know the farmland there and it’s terrible farmland,” he said. “I say that as a farmer. It’s not farmland you can make a living on.”

Simcoe County has at least ten major solar-farm projects that generate 70 megawatts of electricity annually, or enough for 11,500 homes.

Power is a welcome benefit, especially power that creates jobs and comes without damming a river or pumping hydrocarbons into the air or having to find a place for radioactive waste.

But even clean power projects face challenges – for one thing, area residents and politicians are not happy the province maintains much of the control over them.

The province’s Feed-In Tariff or FIT Program cuts out municipal governments from the decision-making process. Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes says that results both in implementation problems and in area residents feeling as though decisions affecting their community are being made by people who don’t live there.

These new developments in energy sources – and clashes over them – are not new in Simcoe County.

From the time the first pioneers started damming rivers and streams to build mills, to replacing water powered mills with steam to electric dams and power line corridors to wind power, each evolution has brought its proponents and opponents.

One of the county’s early residents left his farm in the area of Buckhorn near Peterborough in disgust because of how capriciously a dam was operated.

James T. Angus who lived in Coldwater until his recent death, detailed the problem in his book, A Respectable Ditch.

“The dam at Buckhorn Rapids, completed in 1839, was still standing but leaking badly; no one was in charge of it except John Hall, who regulated it to the advantage of his own mill, frequently flooding out mills upstream at Bobcaygeon.”

James Toole left his mill near Bobcaygeon in 1841, because of Hall’s bizarre management and moved to Midhurst, north of Barrie to work at the mill owned by George Oliver. Before the end of the year, H.R.A. Boys would take it over. The mill was one of five operated on what today is called Willow Creek but then Oliver’s River. The five mills ranged from Finlay Mill Road in Midhurst to the CNR trestle bridge just past Highway 26. In the span, the creek dropped about 25 metres. Among those mills were saw mills for wood, grist for flour and later two hydro dams and a distillery and a soap factory. All water powered.

Steam power changed the energy landscape. It was more portable and less reliant on geography than mills, which meant towns could have energy sources – and industry – away from rivers and in more than one place. But they came with their own problems.

When it was first created in 1843, Simcoe County was much bigger than today, stretching south into York Region, north into Muskoka, west into Grey County and southwest into Dufferin County. But initially there was only one mill to serve it all – Peter Robinson’s Red Mill in what would become Holland Landing, south of Bradford.

A decade later, the new settlers in Simcoe’s central area, tired of trudging down the lousy road called Yonge Street to bring their wheat to the mill to be ground, demanded more mills. One of the first was a steam mill. It kicked off a trend that ran through Simcoe County – both the trend towards steam and the opposition to it.

Steam mill fires, while uncommon, were spectacular and in communities built mostly of wood, they posed a serious concern.

Smoke and noise were also an issue.

In a letter published in the Barrie Examiner in November 1878, resident John Bartram complained of a nearby steam mill: “The burning of green wood to power the plant sends noxious smoke into the neighbourhood leaving our windows filthy and our laundry dirty and clinging with fumes. They should be made to either burn coal, dry hardwood or leave town. We could do without the smell, inconvenience and threat of fire.”

By the late 1800s, electricity was all the rage. Midhurst supplied Barrie with the electricity to light its streets. The waters of Willow Creek were carried down a mill race and generator near Finlay Mill road in Midhurst creating electricity that was sent by power lines running to Highways 26-27 to a station at the south end of Bayfield Street, providing 2,000 candle power at a price of 25 cents a night.

In August 1888, 17 lights were turned on for the first time, in downtown Barrie. This was the first successful attempt to transmit water-powered electricity to a municipality in Simcoe County.

Cue the outrage.

“Dear sir, the agency of chained lightning employed in the illumination of our streets poses a serious hazard as when a light explodes – as they do – the shower of sparks startles and annoys the horses not to mention the women and children. We do not need nor do we want this expense and danger added to our tax bill,” wrote James Holden to the Barrie Northern Advance a month after the lights appeared in downtown Barrie.

Orillia soon got into the act with its own power dam on the Severn River which operates to this day. Ontario Hydro also set up a dam on the Severn. Wasdell Falls power plant was established in 1914 and operated until 1955.

Last year work started to install new slow turbines that are more efficient and environmentally friendly to replace the old system at Wasdell Falls.

Even so, it met with opposition when first proposed.

“The falls are beautiful. That’s why we moved here from Toronto 10 years ago – to get away from the noise and smell and controversy of the city,” said Dian Smith in an article published in the March 25, 2008 Packet and Times. Smith was one of a group of residents in the northeast corner of Severn Township uncomfortable with the hydroelectric facility being proposed.

At the same time, wind power was becoming a major concern in Simcoe county.

The Tiny Cottager reported in its 2007 fall edition:

“Over two years ago Ventus Energy Inc. proposed six 400-foot high wind turbines centred on the open fields of the Robitaille Farm site in the 19th Concession. They set up wind measuring equipment on the field, conducted studies of their potential environmental impacts, held public open houses to explain the proposal, and filed a draft Environmental Screening Report (ESR) with the Township last December.

“Tiny’s newly-elected Council became aware of the ESR in March. On March 12, concerned with the potential for conflict with our Official Plan, Council passed a resolution stating that it does not support industrial wind turbine facilities anywhere within the municipality as these types of projects do not comply with the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan.

“They also noted that the existing zoning bylaw in Tiny Township permits only small wind turbines to a maximum of 38 m. in height, which eliminates industrial turbines.

“More recently, information from the ESR has come under public scrutiny. It turns out that Ventus has altered its original proposal. The six turbines are now to be sited in a sensitive wooded area in the 20th Concession, immediately adjacent to an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (the Thunder Beach ANSI), and are 60 feet higher than in the original proposal.”

The wind power thing didn’t really blow the county away and never caught on. The Ventus proposal didn’t move forward.

Just the facts

“¢ Recurrent Energy, of San Francisco, Calif., is building solar farms on leased land in the townships of Oro-Medonte, Severn, Tay and Springwater. That company was purchased in February by Canadian Solar, based in Ontario, for $265 million.

“¢ At one time, mills were so important, they were detailed in the Gazetteer, an atlas of the county. The quality of the water power was rated as excellent, good or just available. Midhurst ranked excellent, as did mills on Lovers Creek just south of Barrie, Severn River and Coldwater Rivers north of Orillia and the Mad and Noisy and Pretty Rivers near Collingwood.

“¢ Land for dams was awarded by the provincial government but the money to build the dam was generally raised by going to the local farmers and asking them to invest.

Township approves 600-acre solar project near Washago; OPA approval still needed

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times July 30 2016

The sun is shining on a proposed solar-energy development near Washago.

Ramara Township council voted to give its support to Innergex Renewable Energy’s a 600-acre solar project that would produce 60 megawatts (mW) of power.

The proposal has been contentious, dividing residents in the township. While a petition with more than 90 names supporting the development was presented to council this week, throughout the past few council and committee-of-the-whole meetings, other residents have voiced displeasure with the project, particularly its proposed location, in deputations and emails.

Coun. Erika Neher sided with those opposed to the Ramona solar farm.

“The project itself is great; the location is not,” she said. “People were of the opinion they were going to be in a quiet residential area. This project is going to close in all that.”

She reiterated her support for green-energy projects such as solar power but not in areas where humans or wildlife would be adversely affected.

“If it’s not in a residential area, I’d be fine with it.”

Mayor Basil Clarke initially had trepidation about the project as well, but in the end, he voted in favour of it.

“My concern has always been that I consider it a large-scale industrial use (of) rural land,” he said. “But it’s about as passive an industrial use as you can get. Once these panels are built, they just sit there.”

What helped sway Clarke was a visit with area residents to the land in question and a second public meeting held by Innergex. Council members were unable to attend the first meeting as it was held the same night as a regularly scheduled council meeting.

“It’s less traffic to the area than what would be there with a farm,” Clarke said, adding he’s been assured there will be an adequate buffer between the solar installations and residences.

Also, in the mayor’s opinion, the farmland isn’t great.

“I know the farmland there and it’s terrible farmland,” he said. “I say that as a farmer. It’s not farmland you can make a living on.”

If the project receives approval through the Ontario Power Authority’s feed-in-tariff program, the municipality will paid a dividend of $1,500 per mW — about $85,000 annually — that can be used for environmental or recreation initiatives in Ramara.

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